One of Alex’s many hidden talents is an uncanny ability to strike up profitable friendships with librarians. When we were at seminary I seem to recall it was almost never deemed necessary for Alex to pay any late fees should he happen to accrue them. There always seemed to be staff available to field his requests and to float up and meet Norah and I on our rare visits to the library. This is a useful sort of talent for an academic, professorial type–and never more so than on Friday.
Though I do not share his knack of charming and disarming librarians (who have indeed regarded me with suspicion since my Book-It Club days), I too love libraries. They have always seemed like my particular space, as if somehow just by virtue of devotion to books I qualify to carry a card to any library in the world. But I can’t have a card for the Bodleian.
The Bodleian Library is more than the library belonging to the colleges of Oxford University–it is chief among the libraries of the world. You know the “Seven Wonders of the World”? (The Great Wall, the Great Pyramid, the Coliseum, the Taj Mahal, Petra, Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer, Machu Picchu, Chichen Itza) To me, the Bodleian is the eighth. If Oxford is the Mecca of academia, the Bodleian is its Ka’ba. Opening to scholars in 1602, it was based on a much earlier library on much the same site, which was begun in 1320. Undergoing many cycles of expansion, refurbishing, and reform throughout its long history, the Bodleian stands today as one of the best collections of books and manuscripts in the world.
This collection is housed in a complex of incredibly beautiful and iconic structures stretching between the High Street’s University Church of St. Mary the Virgin (the heart of the medieval university), and Broad Street. They stand in a part of the cobbled old city completely uninterrupted by cars and shops, clustered about by the stone walls of the colleges of All Souls and Brasenose, the Bridge of Sighs, and the Sheldonian Theatre. A walk through here is like a trip in a time machine to an era long past, with the only anachronism evident the herds of tourists. Because “the Bod’s” reading rooms are used by the current “readers” (students) of the University as well as scholars from all over the world, most of them are closed to the public. Such as I. Until Friday.
Want to come with me inside the Bodleian? More tomorrow . . .