Always impressive, but not always particularly accessible to visitors, Oxford's Bodleian Library has opened a new, fabulous, bespoke library facility for storing books and manuscripts and engaging the public. If you're a book-lover, then a trip here is essential for any Oxford visitor.
For three years the 'New Bodleian' has been shrouded in hoarding. It was lovely, advertising an A to Z of exciting Bodleian holdings, but access to the library was what we wanted. First completed in 1940, the New Bodleian, on Broad Street, was designed to help accommodate the rapidly expanding collections at the Bodleian Library. It was immediately taken over for the war efforts, providing an excellent study home for those cartographers, cryptographers and other strategists whose intellectual pursuits contributed to the British successes.
Eventually, this building returned to its primary use, as part of the University of Oxford's library system. Space continued to be an issue though, and by the 21st century, new plans were needed. Most importantly, the University needed to meet the requirements of the National Records Office. Visitors flocked to exhibitions, but the exhibition room was too small to hold them. A small café was opened, but could only cater for readers. There were no 'facilities' for visitors. The shop, whilst a great chance to see into the quadrangle's rooms, was not necessarily sufficient for the tourist numbers. Schools were always interested in coming as part of the University's burgeoning outreach work, but there was nowhere to put them.
The Weston Library addresses all these issues. Not only is it a world class research facility, but it is also an excellent visitor centre. The new shop holds souvenirs from a number of recent exhibitions, as well as huge numbers of items well-suited for every bibliophile. Brass bookmarks, music to read by, notelets to send, recipe books to try out: they're all there.
The opening weekend was particularly splendid and bodes well for events to come. The main hall was home to a printing press in action, with ongoing demonstrations reminding one how much labour has historically gone into the printed book.
The lofty atrium provides a wonderful central point. Some parts are open for visitors, and there are guided tours. Below ground are floating stacks, a vault of books accessible to those guardians of knowledge that are the Bodleian's librarians.
There is an exhibition hall, and a lecture theatre, so that visitors can participate in the academic environment. While you wait, projections on the wall give you the history of the library. Whatever the exhibition, the treasury will continue to display some of the library's greatest holdings.
Inside, chairs are specially designed to tilt readers helpfully towards the table and over their notes. This is noiseless, of course, as one wouldn't want to disturb the golden, intense, thought-filled silence of the place.
On the steps people are already beginning to sit and watch the world go by, a great sign that the Weston is going to become a fixed feature in the tourist trail.
Broad Street has some parking, or there are car parks in the vicinity. An[LINK=http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/subjects-and-libraries/libraries?sq_content_src=%2BdXJsPWh0dHAlM0ElMkYlMkZsaWJyYXJ5ZGF0YS5ib2RsZWlhbi5veC5hYy51ayUyRmxpYnJhcmllcyUyRjExJmFsbD0x] access guide has been done by the University.