Lonely Planet review for Bodleian Library
Oxford’s Bodleian Library is one of the oldest public libraries in the world, the first of England’s three copyright libraries (the other two are the British Library and the Cambridge University library) and quite possibly the most impressive library you ever see. It currently holds over 11 million items, 117 miles of shelving and has seating space for up to 2500 readers, with a staggering 4000 books and articles arriving every week – all of which need to be catalogued and stored.
The Bodleian Library has its roots in a 15th century collection of books and its present state is largely due to the efforts of Sir Thomas Bodley, a 16th century Fellow of Merton College who came to the agreement with the Stationers’ Company of London that the library would receive a copy of every single book published in the UK – which stands true today.
The oldest part of the library surrounds the stunning Jacobean-Gothic Old Schools Quadrangle, which dates from the early 17th century and sports some of Oxford’s odder architectural gems. On the eastern side of the quad is the Tower of Five Orders, an ornate building depicting the five classical orders of architecture. On the west side is the Divinity School, the university’s first teaching room. It is renowned as a masterpiece of 15th-century English Gothic architecture and has a superb fan-vaulted ceiling; it featured as the Hogwarts hospital wing in the Harry Potter films.
Most of the rest of the library is closed to visitors, but library tours allow access to the medieval Duke Humfrey’s library, where, the library proudly boasts, no fewer than five kings, 40 Nobel Prize winners, 25 British prime ministers and such writers as Oscar Wilde, CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien studied amid rows filled with grand ancient tomes chained to the shelves. Those wishing to read here (the books may not be borrowed) still have to swear Bodley’s Oath, which involves vowing ‘not to bring into the Library or kindle therein any fire or flame’. You’ll also get to see the 17th-century Convocation House and Court, where parliament was held during the Civil War. The tour takes about an hour and it’s not suitable for children under 11 years old for fear that they will run amok.