Beyond the Work of One

Beyond the Work of One

An exhibition at the Bodleian Library,
24 May – 1 November 2008

College libraries in Oxford grew up before the University’s libraries, and remain independent. They have depended upon benefactors since the first colleges were founded in the 13th century, when books were copied by hand and very expensive. There was competition to create well-stocked libraries, and college members were encouraged to donate works on the University curriculum.

From the late 15th century, when printing increased the availability of books, individual scholars could form important research collections, for which college libraries made ideal homes. Former students might also present to their colleges copies of their own works.

The 17th and 18th centuries saw gifts of magnificent collections of manuscripts, printed books, music, prints and drawings valued for their beauty, antiquity, and associations; and great library buildings were designed to house them.

Such gifts continued in the 19th and 20th centuries. As authors’ and creators’ working drafts came to be valued, colleges received gifts from poets, writers and composers, as well as contemporary papers of historical importance, and memorabilia of life in college.

This exhibition celebrates over 700 years of gift-giving to Oxford college libraries. The chronological arrangement (by date of donation) illustrates how patterns of giving developed. Now and in the future, colleges will continue to depend on benefactions, and their libraries will cherish their treasures and preserve them for study and the delight of readers.
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