The Bodleian Library at Oxford University

Thursday July 23rd- Today we visited Oxford and were able to take a tour of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. All that history under one roof, it was remarkable! Oxford is the oldest university in England dating back to the 12th century, and the library itself contains some amazing treasures from centuries past. Among the many fascinating things in the Bodleian collection there is an original copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets, four original copies of the Magna Carta, as well as the oldest book ever written (dating back to the 4th century). Of course treasures such as these are not available to be viewed by most, however, the fact that they are there, under the same roof (and assumingly under lock and key) is quite amazing.

The Bodleian Library was founded by Sir Thomas Bodley in 1602. Bodley’s gift of both books and money allowed the library to be built up and become the respected academic institution that it is today. From the very beginning scholars have come from all over the world to study at Oxford University and the infamous Bodleian Library, just as Sir Thomas would have wanted.

Again, thanks to Sir Thomas, in 1610 the Bodleian became a copyright library which means that it will receive one copy of every book published in England. The Bodleian Library remains a copyright library to this day. As there are so many books (and treasures) in the Bodleian it is strictly a reference library, meaning no reader may check a book out (leave the library premises with a book). In fact until the early 18th century, books were chained to the shelves to prevent scholars and readers from removing the books.

As a librarian, one dreams of setting foot inside the prestigious Bodleian Library, I feel privileged (and a bit smarter) for having had such an amazing opportunity.

The National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Wednesday July 22nd – Today we went to the Victoria and Albert Museum to tour the National Art Library (which is actually an international library). A majority of the treasures that the library has do relate to art as the library an art library. They have both a general collection as well as a special collection and they do focus on understanding the art of the book as well as book design throughout the ages.

We were given the opportunity to look at a few of the many treasures that the library has, including a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, a Charles Dickens manuscript and an actual letter written by Charles I. It was an amazing assortment and we were dazzled by the display.

Once we peeled ourselves away from the treasures we were taken on a tour of the National Art Library we saw both reading rooms up close and were able to take a look behind the scenes. The National Art Library, like many others we’ve seen is not a lending library, which means readers cannot take a book away, and instead they must sit a table and read through the materials they request. It takes a bit of time to retrieve a book and it is recommended that readers make their requests ahead of time either via phone or email so they don’t have to wait upon arriving. Also, the library does not order more than one copy of any book and pre-requesting a book saves readers from being disappointed if their desired book is unavailable (although we were told that happens rarely). Another very interesting day!

The British Museum and Harry Potter

Tuesday July 21st- Today we ventured to King’s Cross to see if we couldn’t slip through the barrier on Platform 9 ¾. Unfortunately for us Muggles, nothing magical happened and we were not able to cross through to see the Hogwarts Express.

After our Harry Potter morning, we walked over to the British Museum where we were able to view its famous reading room from the outside. The British Museum is host to so many wonderful artifacts that we didn’t even know where to begin, of course we saw the Rosetta Stone and several of the giant sculptures from Ancient Egypt. Once we saw those two exhibits I allowed myself to be led into the Egypt: Life After Death exhibit, in hindsight, maybe not my best idea. A roomful of mummies is pretty much guaranteed to give a person nightmares…

The scariness of seeing the mummies was almost (but not quite) overshadowed by the amazing process of mummification, the time that went into the process, and how long ago the mummies were buried. All in all the British Museum was amazing, I wish I had time to go back!

This evening a small group of us went out to dinner and then to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and I, for one was not disappointed! There was something extra special about seeing it while I was in London. A fantastic night!

Greenwich and The Tower of London

Monday, July 20th- Today we took a boat to Greenwich to visit the library at the National Maritime Museum. It was so much fun to see London from the Thames. Once we arrived in Greenwich we walked past the spot where Henry the VIII, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I were all born. Unfortunately, the palace where they were born is no longer standing.

The Library at the National Maritime originally opened its doors in 1937 and is currently undergoing a massive redevelopment to be completed in 2012. The library contains approximately 100,000 modern books, 8,000 rare books and 20,000 pamphlets and is named in honor of Sir James Caird as his collection started the library.

Once inside the library, we were given access to some pretty amazing stuff, including a real map book used by a real pirate named Basil Ringrose! We were also able to view a copy of the Catalog of the Stars from 1712. The document was being prepared by a gentleman named John Flamsteed however it was published by Edmund Halley per the encouragement of the Royal Society as Flamsteed was taking too long to prepare his final draft. Needless to say Flamsteed was not pleased, and attempted to burn as many of the published copies as he could.

After the library a few of us hiked up the hill to the Royal Observatory to see the Prime Meridian. We saw the watches built by John Harrison that solved the Longitude problem and allowed sailors to accurately map and sail the open seas. We also waited in the queue and took our turn standing on the Prime Meridian Line, although some tourists though it was okay to line jump, needless to say we were not pleased!

After we soaked up all we could in Greenwich we hopped back on the boat and got off at the Tower of London. We saw the spot where Anne Boleyn died, the Tower where the two Princes were murdered (now named the Bloody Tower), the ravens that guard the tower (apparently there must always be at least six, or England will fall), the infamous Crown Jewels and the armor of Henry VIII (it changed quite a lot over his lifespan). Although the Tower wasn’t always used as a prison so many terrible things happened there, it’s hard to think of it as anything other than the place where Henry VIII (and others) sent so many to die.

What a day…

Stonehenge and Winchester

Sunday July 19th- Today we visited both Stonehenge and Winchester. To say that it was an awe inspiring trip would be an understatement! Stonehenge is so beautiful, so huge, and so mystical I don’t know how I could even begin to describe it. Everything from the position of the rocks, the design they create and the speculation around what the site was used for is amazing and unbelievable.

After Stonehenge we took a short ride over to Winchester which has a beautiful Cathedral and is also the place where Jane Austen lived her last days. She is buried in the Cathedral. As an English major, librarian, and overall lover of literature this was a special trip for me, Jane Austen holds a special place in the history of literature, and has always been a favorite of mine. We stood by her grave, read the dedication, a then walked around the corner to see the house she lived in. Overall, another fantastic day.