Bodleian Libraries receive $3 million donation towards Weston Library

Penthouse Reading Room to be named in honour of Rhodes Scholar, Charles Wendell David

11 March 2011

Charles Wendell David reading roomThree million dollars has been donated to the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford by Charles and George David in memory of their father, Charles Wendell David. The donation will be marked by naming the New Bodleian ‘penthouse’ reading room in his honour when it reopens in 2015 as the Weston Library.

Charles Wendell David came from a 19th century agricultural background in America, attended Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and went on to careers in the United States as a medieval historian and pioneering University librarian. His sons, Charles and George David said, ‘The Charles Wendell David Reading Room celebrates a life of scholarship, marked by our father having benefited from and provided opportunities to others. The lesson is the enduring and great power of education and the obligation on each of us – whether families, individuals, institutions or communities – to provide this freely and generously.’

The donation brings the Weston Library appeal fund to £67 million towards a goal of £78.8 million. Pending University approvals, the Bodleian anticipates construction to begin in August on the project to transform the existing library into a modern special collections library combined with galleries and spaces to engage the public with the Bodleian’s collections. Dr Sarah Thomas, Bodley’s Librarian, said: “It is heartwarming to have the reading room named for a fellow librarian and international student, someone who made the most of his Oxford experience as a Rhodes Scholar, and who enriched access to library collections through his innovative initiatives. I am profoundly moved by the tribute of George and Charles David to their father and the benefits to scholars this reading room will bring.”

The donation will be officially announced during the Bodleian Founder’s Lunch on Saturday 12 March, an annual event honouring the memory of the Library’s founder, Sir Thomas Bodley, and his legacy of philanthropy.  Blackwell’s is sponsoring the event for the twenty-third year.

David’s sons said of their father’s life: ‘Charles Wendell David (1885-1984) was born and raised on a farm in central Illinois, still an American frontier in the late 19th century. Neither of his parents was college educated. Yet opportunities provided by others led him first to Northwestern in Chicago and then on to Oxford where he attended Hertford College from 1908 – 11 (B.A. Hons) and Harvard (Ph.D.). He taught and undertook research for many years at Bryn Mawr College before becoming Director of Libraries at the University of Pennsylvania from 1941 to 1955. Access to books became his passion, and he was well ahead of prevailing practice then. An early and illustrative project was the Union Library Catalogue, a consolidated catalogue of the collections of all of Philadelphia’s libraries including Penn’s own university libraries. As Executive Secretary of the Association of Research Libraries from 1946-1952, he championed open stacks and the design of libraries to facilitate this. In his own words, “Bringing minds and books together” was a matter of faith. He was the author of several works on medieval history.’

The £78.8 million renovation and restoration of the New Bodleian Library has three aims: to create high quality storage for the Library’s valuable Special Collections, which include the precious manuscripts, books and maps that the Bodleian preserves for the international world of scholarship; to develop the Library’s facilities for the support of advanced research; and to expand public access to its great treasures through new exhibition galleries and other facilities.

Designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, the New Bodleian Library is listed Grade II and was completed in 1940. The project is being managed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects.

The Garfield Weston Foundation has donated £25 million towards the project; in honour of this bequest, the New Bodleian will reopen in 2015 as the Weston Library. Oxford University Press provided matching funds of £25 million. Julian Blackwell, the President of Blackwell UK Ltd, whose flagship store neighbours the New Bodleian, has donated over £6 million, in honour of which the entrance hall will be known as Blackwell Hall. The David Reading Room will fulfill the original plan of architect Giles Gilbert Scott who always intended that there should be an Upper Floor Reading Room crowning his 1930’s building.

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