First Day at the Bodleian Library

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May 12th 2008
Published: May 13th 2008
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This room took 60 years to build because Oxford kept running out of money to finish it.
We were jokingly told that we would be "well fed and watered" during the seminar here in Oxford. They weren't kidding. From steaks to quiches to cherry pie with clotted cream and baklava with raisins and pistachios, the meals are frequent and quite tasty. At meals we often discuss how rich the food is in England and France and Italy, but the life expectancy is so much longer in these places compared to the hyper-health conscious Americans who stress themselves to an early death. Afternoon tea is every day at 2:00 where large carafes of coffee and tea sit waiting next to a pitcher of cream with buttery biscuits. I could get used to this.

So, we got our first glimpse of the oldest English library today, The Bodleian Library. While construction started in the late 14th century, the library existed as the "University Library" in a very primitive state before Thomas Bodley dedicated his life to creating a unified library for the Oxford colleges. The University of Oxford is unique in the way that each college within acts completely independently, having their own chapels and dining halls and libraries. In applying to The University of Oxford, you are really
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This is one of those intricate carvings from the ceiling
asking to be placed among one of these colleges. Some things such as lectures and research are offered directly through the university. The structures themselves are also separate and randomly located throughout the city of Oxford. The Bodleian Library was built to provide a central research location where all of the colleges could go for resources. Today, the Bodleian receives a free copy of any book published in the UK for consideration to be added.

I can't even begin to explain how breathtaking the architecture of The Bodleian library is from the inside and out. The windows and ceilings are carved and moulded with such intricate details. Gold leaf and painstaking designs are painted on ceilings and walls and floors. Thick, old books line the walls of the numerous "reading rooms" which require a special passkey (cameras are prohibited) and the rule of no pens is strictly enforced (laptops and pencils only, please).

But my favorite part was the underground depository where the overflow of books are kept in rows upon rows of rolling trolleys shoved up against each other. Our guide slid out an entire shelf of priceless, old childrens' books. Spines of lavender, pink, baby blue, and cream striped the shelf, and designs of little animals and fairies were embossed or painted on some of the spines. Some of us gasped when he opened a copy of Andrew Lang's "Violet Fairy Book of Tales" with an art nouveau style fairy embossed in gold leaf on the cover. After flipping past the tissue paper page with a pinky, we saw the bright and beautiful colors of the book's title page and cheerful bright lettering. "This is what children books look like when children can't get their hands on them," he tells us.

Additional photos below
Photos: 5, Displayed: 5


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Bronze Statue

Not Thomas Bodley, the man depicted in this statue was William Herbert, Chancellor of Oxford 1617-1630. The guide mentioned that he may have been a good friend of Shakespeare and may have been referenced (initials only) in the first folio.

13th May 2008

wow! the ceiling of that library is amazing! it sounds like you are really absorbing as much you can, that's so great! I hope you are having an amazing experience. xoxo andrea
14th May 2008

Tres exciting lauren i love it!

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