Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford

The iconic Radcliffe Camera

I was SO excited to visit Oxford, and I am sure that I will be remembering it as a highlight of the trip! The Bodleian Library at Oxford is fairly famous, as libraries go, but I found I actually knew very little about its history, policies or collections before our visit. The Bodleian Library was opened in 1602, and was built upon the foundations of a library from the 1400s, which housed a collection donated by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (this heritage in acknowledged in the name of the Bodleian’s Duke Humphrey’s Library, which was built and still stands on the site of the original, 15th century library).

The Duke Humphrey’s Library, which fans of the Harry Potter films might recognize… Photo credit:

Two copies of every book are purchased for the Oxford Univerisity libraries; one copy goes to the college library affiliated with that topic, and one goes to the Bodleian. The Bodleian Library is strictly non-circulating, and always has been; there is a famous story of how even a king of England was not granted an exception when he wanted to borrow a book. The library has historically been used primarily by faculty members. Today, international researchers come from all over to use the library, and students are also allowed, but the idea of students visiting and using the library is a relatively recent concept.

I was not previously aware of how the Bodleian Library and its founder, Thomas Bodley, have contributed to library history. The Bodleian Library was the first copyright library (or “legal deposit” library) in the United Kingdom. This concept can be traced back to an agreement made between the library and the Stationer’s Company in 1610, in which the library received a copy of every book published by the Company. Today, copyright libraries can be found throughout the world. In the UK, there are 6 copyright libraries, including the Bodleian, which are eligible to request one copy of every UK publication. In addition, the Friends of the Bodleian Library is considered to be the earliest Friends of a Library association. Such associations are still popular and active in libraries today.

Outside the Duke Humphrey's Library

Outside the Duke Humphrey’s Library

It can be hard to imagine the Bodleian evolving beyond being a more ‘traditional’, book-filled library space. Some changes have happened over time, to be sure; for example, books on the ground level of the Duke Humphrey’s Library were once chained to the shelves, and no longer are. Also, the library was once populated by only manuscripts, and is now filled with books. Libraries everywhere are evolving, in their architecture and physical appearance, and especially in the makeup of their collections. But libraries like the Bodleian clearly still hold significance and value within their communities, especially by retaining many of their historic elements.


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