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Historic Merton College Upper Library

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by Erin (subscribe)
I travel as much as possible at home and abroad. I'm always ready for new experiences
Published January 19th 2019
The world's oldest continuously functioning academic library
Through the modern library and up a short flight of 17th-century stairs is the oldest part of Merton College Library, known as the Upper Library, which dates from 1373. This makes it one of the earliest libraries in England and the oldest continuously functioning academic library in the world. The library contains bookshelves and dormer windows dating to 16th-century refurbishments. The collection of early printed books are divided into subjects (medieval manuscripts are now housed elsewhere). Also on display are scientific instruments and astrolabes, large 16th-century globes (of the earth and heavens), book chests, reading benches, and repurposed medieval tiles.

This special historic library makes for an enchanting experience for all those with an interest in historical books and the medieval spirit of Oxford.

During the medieval period, this was a chained library. Very few chained libraries still exist (Hereford Cathedral is the largest and most well-known; St Wulfram's is a much smaller scale example). In the Upper Library, one reconstructed book chain is provided as an example of how the original chained library might have looked.

The stained glass window with the text (shown above) gives a note of encouragement (or threat) to students: Oxoniam quare venisti premeditare nocte dieque cave tempus consumere prave - You have come to Oxford to study, so be diligent by night and day and don't waste your time.

Medieval floor tiles

Being a historic space within a busy working college library, visits are only possible by booking with a college guide at specific times of the year. From July to September, tours take place starting at 2.00pm and 3.00pm daily (except for those days when the College is closed to visitors). Capacity is limited, and advanced booking is highly recommended. Advance bookings may be made with the Tour Coordinator (up to 24 hours in advance) or with the College Lodge on the day.

Booking for groups may be made outside of these normal tour dates by completing the appropriate form. Group visits and tours are usually not possible during the final examination period (approximately April to the end of June).

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Why? Visit the oldest continuously functioning academic library in the world
When: See website for special instructions
Phone: 44(0)1865276310
Where: Merton College Merton Street Oxford, OX1 4JD
Cost: 5.00 per person; 3.00 for University members
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