As a privately owned and administered building in the heart of the University the Radcliffe Library was something of an anomaly. In its early years it had only a few books, and even fewer readers.
Radcliffe left £100 a year in his will for the purchase of books, but for many years his Executors and Trustees showed little inclination to spend this money, and consequently the shelves of the Radcliffe Library remained mostly empty.
There was also some confusion over the kind of library it was: whether it was for foreign books that the Bodleian would neither purchase nor receive; or a general collection of 'modern books'; or a 'Physic Library' containing volumes relating to medicine, botany and the natural sciences.
The first books came through gifts and bequests. James Gibbs, the architect of the Library, bequeathed a group of mostly architectural books, and Benjamin Kennicott, the second Radcliffe Librarian, his important collection of Hebrew manuscripts. Other collectors gave to the library their books and manuscripts, both western and oriental in scope. Thus was formed a somewhat random and haphazard library collection.
MS. Oxon. d. 281, fol. 144 The Kennicott Bible, 1476
MS. Kennicott 1, fols. 5v–6r The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices by al-Jazari, 1638
MS Greaves 27, fol. 62a The Underground Bookstore under construction, c. 1909-10
G.A. Oxon. a.34 Section view of the Underground Bookstore, 1911
G.A. Oxon. a.46, p. 69 Ground floor of the Radcliffe Camera, in use as a bookstore, c. 1940
Library Records, b. 867, no. 27