The Bodleian Libraries serve the University of Oxford as its principal research library, supplying information services, preserving content, and supporting researchers.
Since its foundation in 1602, however, the Bodleian Library has served a broader public both through providing access to its collections for researchers from outside of the Oxford academic community, and through a broader cultural engagement. The Bodleian provided Britain with the first public picture gallery (in the Upper Reading Room of the Old Bodleian Library); the Library also displayed sculpture and other cultural objects during the 18th century, and has exhibited its books and manuscripts since the early 19th century (when the first vitrine was acquired). The historic buildings of the Central Bodleian complex were accessible to the general public from at least the 18th century, when, for example, the balcony of the Radcliffe Camera could be visited for a small fee.
During the 19th and 20th centuries the Bodleian was generous in lending western and Oriental books and manuscripts to national exhibitions, and today lends masterpieces to 10-15 exhibitions worldwide each year.
The Bodleian Libraries will continue to develop this wider cultural engagement with society in support of one of the University’s core activities: ‘Wider Engagement with Society’. Through these activities, the Library will support the university in:
- widening access to the University itself, and to the research activities of the University.
- widening access to the heritage in the Library’s collections.
- providing opportunities to develop cultural collaborations between University researchers and other cultural organisations and academic institutions.
- providing access to the Library for the local Oxford community
- working with schools and with bodies such as the Sutton Trust to encourage school-age children to engage with learning, with the University of Oxford and with the libraries in particular.
The Bodleian Libraries will deliver this wider engagement through the following means:
1. Digital access to the Bodleian Libraries' collections. From 1995 the Bodleian Library has provided free access to numerous materials in the Bodleian Libraries' special collections. These digital resources have been designed to serve a research audience, but are frequently used by a broader public who are able to access them without charge and easily via the world wide web. From 2005 the Bodleian Libraries' collections were also made freely available on the web via the Google Book Search interface, and are used by a mass global audience.
The Bodleian Libraries will continue to provide access to digitised materials from its collections, and increasingly to cultural heritage materials which are born digital, through its digital library services. These will be created either independently, or through collaboration with other organisations and institutions.
2. Oxford University Research Archive (ORA). From 2008 the Bodleian Libraries has provided a service to capture, manage and provide access to research outputs, and in some cases research data, created by University of Oxford researchers. As these are generally freely accessible through the web to the general public, some of these materials will have a cultural aspect.
ORA will continue to provide open access to research materials at all levels to the widest possible public.
3. Exhibitions. For centuries the Bodleian Library and other University libraries have exhibited their collections to the general public, and today they provide free exhibitions to the public and the Oxford research community alike. These exhibitions have the following objectives:
- sharing the great research collections with the public
- sharing the national and international heritage with the general public
- providing an accessible view of University of Oxford research activity
- providing a forum for collaborations with other academic and cultural organisations
- providing supporting materials for Oxford conferences, seminars and other research activities
- providing access to the history of the University itself.
The Bodleian Libraries will deliver ten major exhibitions over the next five years, in addition to numerous small displays, and stand-alone exhibitions such as World Book Day. The exhibition programme will be expanded when the New Bodleian Library is refurbished, through increased space for temporary exhibitions, and a permanent display of treasures.
4. Exhibition loans. The Bodleian Libraries currently lends important materials to between 10-20 international exhibitions annually. Occasionally the Bodleian Libraries will enter into a major collaboration with another academic or cultural institution, such as the Smithsonian Institution for the exhibition In the beginning in 2006 which included research seminars, publications and lectures in addition to the exhibition itself.
The Bodleian Libraries will continue to lend to major exhibitions, as resources permit, and to enter into major collaborations on exhibitions with other academic and cultural organisations, both within Oxford and internationally.
5. Events and public programmes. The Bodleian Libraries have occasionally developed cultural events such as Seminars (e.g. the Bruce Chatwin Seminar July 2008), Poetry Readings (e.g. Geoffrey Hill as part of the Oxford Literary Festival March 2008), Operas (New Chamber Opera, Summer 2005) and other musical recitals (e.g. ), and Dramatic productions (e.g. A Winter’s Tale, August 2008), both independently and in collaboration with other academic institutions and cultural organisations.
The Bodleian Libraries will continue to develop a programme of events which connect the research collections of the Library with the wider public and research community in new ways. These events will be delivered both independently, and in collaboration with other academic and cultural organisations e.g. The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival, The Oxford Playhouse, and Shakespeare’s Globe.
6. Access to historic buildings. The historic and significant buildings of the central Bodleian and other libraries have been accessible to the general public ever since the creation of the Divinity School in the 15th century. The Tour Programmes managed by Commercial Operations currently provide access to the buildings of the Old Bodleian complex to over 20,000 people annually. Many Bodleian Libraries run special events (such as participation in the Oxford Preservation Trust’s Open Doors scheme) and make their buildings available for other purposes such as filming.
The Bodleian Libraries will continue to offer high-quality guided tours of its historic buildings.
7. Publications. The Bodleian Library has published its own books, and worked with Oxford and other publishers to produce catalogues and other publications to expand access to the Bodleian’s collections and to the collections of other Bodleian Libraries, guided and advised by the Publishing Committee.
The Library will continue to use publication as a means of reaching out to new audiences and to the existing scholarly community.