24 May 2012
A recent article and letter in The Times newspaper (22 May 2012) raised a number of concerns about operations within the Bodleian Libraries, ranging from readers eating food in the Libraries to the disruption caused by collection moves.
Unfortunately the article was riddled with inaccuracies and the concerns raised were not supported by fact, and therefore need to be addressed. Firstly, we do not allow food and drink anywhere near our manuscripts: anyone who somehow managed to sneak a 'burger and chips' into the Bodleian would be stopped by our staff before they could even remove the wrapper.
Nor has there been any change in access for undergraduates: they have long had full access to every part of the Bodleian, and the ability to work in a world-class library and study primary documents is one of the most cherished aspects of an Oxford education. It is important to stress that the Bodleian Libraries cater for the whole academic community of Oxford in their 30-plus libraries and reading rooms. The old Bodleian will not change perceptibly in the use of its reading rooms at present: mixed use between undergraduates, postgraduates and senior scholars. The Rad Cam and Gladstone Link will also be mixed use, but focussed, as they are at present on undergraduate provision.
The relocation of the History library has been long planned and was subject to wide consultation. Greater efficiency will result in savings that will enable the Bodleian to add Sunday opening hours and purchase new books and journals, leading to an overall benefit for humanities faculties and students.
Change is indeed under way at the Bodleian. We are opening up our materials to a wider audience while improving services for readers. The renovation of the New Bodleian Library will make some of our most important collections more accessible and provide space for permanent public exhibitions; the preservation of priceless books and manuscripts is improving; we have major digitisation collaborations with other research institutions, providing online access for all; and innovative programs like our scan-and-deliver services have improved quality and speed of service for readers. There is every reason for scholars, students and indeed the general public to be excited.
While change can be challenging, it is important to ensure that the Bodleian serve the 21st-century university, just as the traditions of the past served their generations. Services to scholars are of primary importance, but it is also vital that the Bodleian's priceless heritage be available to as wide an audience as possible.