21 March 2016
Library welcomed more than 770,000 visitors in its inaugural year and earned architectural praise
In its first year of opening, the Weston Library has welcomed more than 770,000 visitors and its vibrant programme of exhibitions and displays, lectures and events have proved hugely popular with everyone from local residents to tourists from around the world. The Library, which is part of the University of Oxford's Bodleian Libraries, opened to the public on March 21, 2015, after a three-year transformation by Wilkinson Eyre architects that created both a world-class research library and a visitor space with exhibition galleries, a lecture theatre and a café and shop.
In the short time since it opened, the Weston Library has become the fourth most popular visitor attraction in Oxfordshire, according to new figures released this month by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA). The rankings were based on visitor numbers in 2015, and the Weston Library scooped fourth place in the county despite only being open for nine months of the 2015 calendar year.
'We've been delighted at the positive response we've had to the Weston Library. In our first year, we've received more than double the number of visitors we estimated,' said Bodley's Librarian Richard Ovenden. 'The building has proved its success among both scholars and members of the public and we look forward to welcoming many more people to the Weston Library to learn about the Bodleian's great collections, and the outstanding research in the University of Oxford that they support.'
In the last year, the Library has welcomed leading scholars and other high-profile figures from public life including Professor Stephen Hawking and Sir David Attenborough who opened the inaugural Marks of Genius exhibition, actress Vanessa Redgrave who unveiled the Bodleian's 12 millionth book in November and His Excellency Daniel Mulhall, the Ambassador of Ireland, who came to speak about the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising. The Library has also hosted a diverse range of free exhibitions, displays and activities ranging from an exhibition of rare Armenian masterpieces and a display of historic board games to a hackathon for kids.
With its grand atrium, Blackwell Hall, one of the largest indoor halls in Oxford, the Weston Library has become a hub for cultural citywide events, playing host to the launch of the international drawing festival The Big Draw and a 'pop up' orchestra for Oxford's Christmas Lights Festival, as well as providing a venue for networking events for local business leaders.
Looking ahead, the Libraries' Shakespeare's Dead exhibition will open on 22 April in the ST Lee Gallery in the Weston Library and will be accompanied by numerous talks and activities as part of the Shakespeare Oxford 2016 festival. Visitors can also see the Bodleian Treasures exhibition, which opened in February and showcases some of the Libraries' rare and renowned items including the original manuscript of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Tolkien's illustrations from The Hobbit.
In addition to winning over members of the public, the building has received accolades from the architecture and design community. This month, the Royal Institute for British Architects (RIBA) announced that the building has been shortlisted for a prestigious RIBA South 2016 Award, the results of which will be announced on 28 April. The building is also a finalist for the Building Magazine Project of the Year (2015).
In 2015, the Weston Library won an Oxford Preservation Trust Award in the Building Conservation category and was shortlisted for a number of awards including the Prime Minister's Better Public Building Award.