21st century plans for Bodleian Library

17 March 2009

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Oxford University’s world-famous Bodleian Library is today embarking on a new scheme to overhaul its facilities and services in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The plans, announced today, include the purchase of a site to construct a new book storage facility in which to house low-demand items and the timescale for the refurbishment of the New Bodleian. With the purchase of this land, based just outside of Swindon town centre, the Library can now progress with its extensive plans to provide innovative services for readers and better preserve its heritage collections.

As part of the plans for the future of the Bodleian, the University announced on Saturday that the New Bodleian will be renamed the Weston Library in honour of the £25 million donation given in March 2008 by the Garfield Weston Foundation. The name change will come into effect following the refurbishment of the Library.

Sarah Thomas, Bodley's Librarian and Director, Oxford University Library Services, said: “With the purchase of this site, we anticipate that the new storage facility will become operational in 2010. This will enable the renovation of the New Bodleian as a special collections library and the union of a number of faculty libraries into the Humanities Library on the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter.”

The Bodleian Library pledges to improve the overall speed of access to information by providing direct access to high-demand print collections, more online access to materials, electronic document delivery, and expanded inter-library loans.

This summer, most of the special collections will move out of the New Bodleian to the Radcliffe Science Library – ensuring that these key works are still accessible during the refurbishment. Preparation for the refurbishment will start in 2010 and the work will take approximately four years to complete.

The New Bodleian houses many of the University’s most important treasures. To emphasise this, the University is transforming it into a modern special collections library and research centre so its unique collections can be seen to their best advantage and its great collections of manuscripts and archives be best protected. In addition to improving its services as a major research library, the ground floor of the New Bodleian will be opened up to the public with the creation of exhibition galleries and learning space, allowing the Library to build on its successful relationship with the community.

The central stack will be replaced, three floors of secure storage developed below ground level, additional reading rooms provided, and dedicated floors for curation and conservation created. The new public access to the ground floor will mean Oxford residents and visitors can view some of the University’s greatest treasures and gain insights into research activities at Oxford.

“This is exciting progress in the rollout of the Libraries' strategy to improve services for its readers,” said Sarah Thomas. “The academic strategy includes a combination of direct access to books on the shelves of Oxford's libraries, online access to the largest number of digital titles in the UK, and state-of-the-art storage for paper collections.”

As part of its plans to improve reader services and provide better storage for paper collections, the University this week purchased a 15-acre site close to Swindon for the construction of a high-density book storage facility for the Bodleian Library.

The new book storage facility will house predominantly low-demand items from the Library’s collections, many of which have electronic copies available. As a result, the facility is expected to fulfill approximately 200,000 requests per year, which is a reduction of more than 50 per cent over its previously anticipated use.  Located in South Marston, the facility is 28 miles from Oxford, on a direct route to the city.

In addition to providing greater access to its print volumes and the New Bodleian refurbishment, the Bodleian is investing heavily in increased digital access to its collections. Half a million pounds has been spent this year on improvingaccess to retrospective journal holdings in electronic form, and a further £500,000 has recently been approved.

Finally, the development of the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter is a key part of plans for the Library’s future. The first phase of this new development in central Oxford will see the creation of an interdisciplinary humanities library, located on the lower floors of the new Humanities centre. The new library will house up to one million volumes of printed material, eventually consolidating the holdings of up to 15 separate collections and related collections and integrating them with stock from the main Bodleian. It will be a state-of-the-art facility, offering the very latest developments in information technology, dedicated study space for graduate students, and longer opening hours for readers.

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