Bodleian Libraries

Bod chief fights for cash to save humanities

Described by the University as “the last remaining large plot of land available for development in the historic heart of the city,” the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter (ROQ) just off Woodstock Road is currently a busy building site.

However, the sight of workmen and diggers is hiding the fact that the centrepiece of the whole project, the Humanities Library, remains untouched ground. Intended to be the final piece of the jigsaw in the Bodleian’s strategy of integrating the many subject libraries, the Humanities library has been delayed – a demonstration of the funding squeeze the University faces.

Dr Sarah Thomas, Bodleian Librarian, says that rather than being frustrated she is excited at using the delay as an opportunity to rethink exactly what will occupy the space. “If you had put in an order for a new car six years ago and you got the 2006 model, you’d be kind of disappointed to be getting that model in 2012. You’d want to get the latest features. I want to design a library that’s right for 2015 let’s say.” One change is that the previous plans for the new library included moving millions of books from the present humanities subjects, something that will be rethought now the Bod’s Swindon facility is completed.

The official University position is that the current architect’s designs will go ahead when funding is in place. But Thomas, speaking in what must be one of the best-placed offices anywhere in Oxford in the Clarendon building (overlooking broad street and also the Bodleian), has different ideas. Her “dream” is for students to have efficient access to all the Bod’s materials, but that some books will make way for study space.

“My wish is for a library for all users on the ROQ – not just humanities students – to come together and talk about ideas using the best materials and technology. There’s a real deficit of a place like that here. I need to have a discussion [with University leaders] but haven’t had that yet.”

One discussion she has had is about fundraising. Fresh from a development meeting she reports the Bodleian raised over £6 million last year to August – up 46 percent on the previous year. This year already they’ve raised £5 million and the development officers tell her “we could be at £9 million by the end of February and £14 million by the end of July.” “We’ve had budget cuts and further cuts to come but I’m not daunted by it. There are people out there who love this place and what we do. How old is Google? The Bod has lasted much longer, has a richer history and will still be here when Google and Facebook are just curiosities.”

Having arrived from her native USA in 2007, Thomas has been a key part of Vice-Chancellor Andrew Hamilton’s plans to increase the level of private donations the University receives. Her office is littered with photos of her with major figures – “that’s me with Bill [Clinton]” – and wealthy philanthropists mostly from the USA, which offers an insight into the fundraising process that consumes much of her and her colleagues’ time. She shows us one photo of her with a man in a Hawaiian shirt holding a drink. “That’s at his 50th Birthday party. He gave us $50 million. And that’s his father,” she points to a portrait on her wall.

The Humanities library and building needed £90 million to get started but donors couldn’t be found in time for construction. Thomas thinks that the library would cost only £35 million of the total cost. “Can I raise that? Yes I could.”

By when? “Three or four years. There is one donor who is ready to make a very large gift for a 21st century library but needs to see plans. But I don’t have authorisation for new plans before the University says it’s OK.”

History students about to be squeezed into the Rad Cam after their Faculty Library’s planned closure this summer will be waiting “a minimum of two years, or even until the end of the decade,” she says.

The grand strategy to integrate libraries was in place long before Dr Thomas arrived, but she points to the Social Science Library and a Science Library housing zoology and other subjects as successful stages so far. “Knowledge can’t be pigeon-holed into subjects anymore. It also makes it easier to have longer opening hours, less replicated purchases, more unique material, more online resources – something college libraries don’t do. Overall, it’s what we like to call in America a one-stop shop.”

Thomas admits she haphazardly fell into becoming a librarian after needing a job to pay for her studies. She got a job at Widener Library, Harvard, the “mothership of libraries” and then Cornell before becoming the first non-Brit and female Bodley Librarian in 400 years. Some might call her the worldwide Queen of Books.

“When I came to Oxford it was a shock to see college libraries performing the role of undergraduate libraries in the US. But the Bod performs a greater role.”
Amid the higher education funding gloom, Thomas’s optimism stands out and she’s adamant that libraries are worth investing in. “Libraries are at the heart of what we do – they’re nourishment for the brain. At Oxford they’re up there with your tutor in that by reading you’re having a conversation with all those who’ve gone before you. Think of the great minds who sat in these chairs,” she gets up and delicately touches her 18th century chair, which she points out has been repaired throughout the years.

With the move to the ROQ the biggest change to the University in 100 years, and funding constraints, Thomas’ challenge is now to make her own lasting mark on the academic landscape.

Bodleian finishes book move

The Bodleian Library finished its large-scale book relocation programme over the Christmas vacation, with the seven millionth book being shelved at its new Swindon facility.

The project has created space on Broad Street for a refurbished library that will showcase some of its finest collections.

With a building cost of £26 million and with 153 miles of shelving, the warehouse in Swindon now houses more than half of the Bod’s 11 million items.

The collection of items comprises low-usage items, but being situated only 28 miles from Oxford and with the promise of same-day delivery of any of its items if ordered before 10am, items housed there will remain easily accessible to students.

Bod Librarian Sarah Thomas explained the extent of the success, saying: “This has been an important year in the history of the Bodleian, and it has been an extraordinary success.

“We have tagged and moved all our books, relocated our staff, prepared the New Bodleian building for its redevelopment, opened new facilities for readers in the heart of Oxford and refreshed and developed our IT capabilities […] thanks to a superb team of dedicated staff we have accomplished [this] all simultaneously without any major interruption to our day-to-day services to readers either in the university or further afield.”

“Readers can look forward to significant enhancements to our services in 2012 and beyond.”

The move follows the closing of the New Bodleian on Broad Street in September 2010, which will now be fully refurbished according to plans which will see it re-open as the Weston Library in 2015.

The idea behind the plans stems from a need for extra space in addition to an effort to make certain items more accessible.

The Bod’s Special Collections, which include the works of Oscar Wilde and John Locke amongst others, will be displayed in the Weston Library upon its completion. In addition to exhibition rooms for the Special Collections, the refurbished building will be home to a café, and will be given a new glass front on Broad Street.

A second-year English student said: “I’ve always thought it was a bit of a tragedy that all those sexy old books the Bod has aren’t on display somewhere. Plus it can actually be pretty helpful academically especially for some of the older texts to see the original.”

Bod makes big bucks on books

We all know what it’s like to get landed with an unexpected bill for an overdue library book. It seems that, no matter how many reminders we set, or how many emails the library sends us, students across the country are failing abysmally at returning books on time.

Recently released figures show that British universities have raised almost £50m in fines over the past six years, with at least ten raising over £1m each.

Over the period since 2004/05, Oxford did not place in the top ten universities for income from fines. However, the figures suggest we might just be hanging on to the books indefinitely: Oxford came second only to Bucks New University for the number of missing books. The Bodleian said 20,923 books were unaccounted for – but with over nine million items this is unlikely to have made a significant dent in its holdings.

Precise figures were only released for the past three years, showing that the University took in a total of £411,588, with a decreasing income year-on-year.

Whilst the Bodleian Libraries have a standardised system varying from 20p per day to 50p per hour, depending on the type of loan, there is great variation between colleges. At Exeter, students are charged a flat-rate of £1 per book. But if someone else recalls it, students must pay £1 per day. Keble students pay 5p per book per day. Lincoln has its own “blacklist” for students with “very overdue” books.

The Bodleian said that “the income from fines goes to support the general funds of the Libraries”. But with an overall deficit of over £2.5m in 2009-10, the income from fines makes little impact on the Library’s funding. The Library added: “We consider that the system works well and there are currently no plans for major changes”.

Second-year Exeter College student Sophie Hatcher said that she “hated fines” because “the reminder comes four days early. That’s four days in which to forget it’s about to be overdue, and before you know it it’s too late.”

But James Misson, a second-year English student, said: “I think it’s definitely overpriced but that’s probably a good thing. Someone else having the book you’re looking for is far more annoying than having to pay a fine.”

Leeds topped the table, which was compiled from 101 universities’ responses to Freedom of Information requests, raking in almost £1.9m.  Sophie O’Connor, a Leeds Geography student, said:  “The most annoying thing is in the holidays when you can’t take a loan out for any period longer than a week and you have to keep renewing it.

“I had books out over Christmas, but if someone recalls your book then until you return it you can’t renew any other books you have. So it’s really difficult over the holidays as I can’t give it back and people keep recalling my books.”

Imperial had the smallest income at just over £26,000 – one seventieth of Leeds’ income. Thalmus Delonge, a medic at Imperial, said: “No one ever makes you pay. You can give a book back at machines, so it’s easy to get out of paying.”

Systems and pricing for fines vary hugely between universities. Amongst the most expensive are  Durham and Oxford Brookes, where fines on short-term loans are £1 per hour, and at Edinburgh the charge is 2p per minute. At the other end of the scale, Portsmouth only charges 5p per day for a long-term loan while the majority charge between 20 and 30p.

One UCL student told how she was charged £20 for removing a book from the library by accident. “It was a mistake.  If the alarms will catch you anyway, why fine you?”

At Edinburgh, a five day ‘grace period’ is used in which no fine is issued. But students who return books after the period are charged for it retrospectively. Westminster does not fine students at all, but rather bans them from libraries for the length of time that their book was overdue.

Several universities, including Oxford, do not allow students to graduate if fines are outstanding. The majority restrict access to library services once a limit has been reached, which varies from £5 to £40 of fines.

Austen, not austen-tatious

If Jane Austen were alive today, she might be astounded to find herself as wealthy as one of her privileged literary heroes.Her novels and the films based on them have enjoyed steady popularity in recent years, and her unfinished manuscript The Watsons sold last week for nearly one million pounds to Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Auctioneers had only expected the piece to sell for a third of the final price.

Amid fierce competition from the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, the University’s central library purchased Austen’s manuscript The Watsons at Sotheby’s last week for £993,250. The Bodleian was assisted by a grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, as well as by other contributors.

“The Bodleian is delighted to be able to add this manuscript to its extraordinary holdings of English literary manuscripts,” said Dr Christopher Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections at the Bodleian and English faculty member. “The phenomenal financial support we received towards the total purchase cost came solely from benefactors and grant giving bodies, which is a wonderful vote of confidence in what we do to preserve and make accessible to scholars and the wider public items of great cultural significance.”
Fletcher addressed the risk of losing the manuscript to another institution abroad and said he and his colleagues felt it was crucial that the piece “come into a major research library like the Bodleian.”

The 68-page working draft containing liberal revision marks may lend insight into the great Austen’s creative process. The first 12 pages of The Watsons reside at New York’s Pierpont Morgan Library and were sold during World War I.

The plot of The Watsons, featuring a clergyman and his four unmarried daughters, draws parallels to Austen’s own life. The story is thought to have been written somewhere between the creations of Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park. Austen abandoned the project before her death.

“Austen is probably second only to Shakespeare in her status as a major national literary icon”

Christopher Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections, Bodleain Libraries

Austen’s manuscript, which is the only copy of the story, will join other literary gems on display starting 30th September as a part of the ‘Treasures of the Bodleian’ exhibit. The Bodleian is also home to a manuscript of Austen’s juvenilia, Love and Freindship [sic].

“Austen is probably second only to Shakespeare in her status as a major national literary icon,” Fletcher said.

Bodleian purchases Kafka correspondence

The Bodleian Library and the Deutsches Literaturarchiv in Marbach have joined together to purchase a collection of correspondence by celebrated author Franz Kafka to prevent them being auctioned to private collectors.

It is believed to be the first time that two such institutions in different countries have cooperated to acquire a literary archive. Richard Ovenden, Associate Director and Keeper of Special Collections of the Bodleian Libraries, sees it as “a cause for celebration for international scholarship. It recognises that the pursuit of academic collaboration crosses national boundaries”.

The extensive collection was due to be auctioned in Germany on the 19th of April, but the two institutions came to an agreement to co-purchase and share the archive with the purchase price remaining undisclosed. The unprecedented arrangement was brought about with the intention of safeguarding the archive’s accessibility for academic and research purposes.

According to Professor Dr. Ulrich Raulff, Director of the Deutsches Literaturarchiv, both institutions intend to use the “newly created connection to install a platform for future projects of research, publication and exhibition” of the renowned literary figure.

The collection includes correspondence between Kafka and Dora Diamant, his lover; Robert Klopstock, his friend and doctor; and his youngest sister Ottla, the family member to whom he was closest.

The papers had been in the possession of Esther Hoffe, the secretary of the man to whom Kafka bequeathed his manuscripts to be burned, until her death in 2007. Her family then set about selling the collection, instigating a court case in Tel Aviv to decide who should steward the important archive.

The study of Kafka’s work is an important part of the German course at Oxford. Professor Ritchie Robertson, Taylor Professor of German at St John’s College, said that the letters represented “an essential source for Kafka’s biography and for that of his sister”. The letters include details of the writer’s family relationships and his views on the world in which he lived, both highly important in interpreting Kafka’s literature.

Described by the Bodleian as “one of the most influential writers of the 20th century and one of the fathers of literary modernism”, Kafka was born in Prague to a German-speaking Jewish family in 1883. His works, prominent examples including The Trial and The Metamorphosis, went largely unnoticed during his lifetime but came to increasing prominence after his death in 1924.

Rachael McLellan

No cash grabs for the Tabs

Cambridge University Library officials have spent six months searching for a sponsor – and have failed to find one.

The library, currently known simply as “University Library”, has no major benefactor, unlike its rival, the Bodleian.

The Bod is named after an early 17th Century donor, Sir Thomas Bodleian, who donated books and money to the library.

Some feared a “Tesco Library” could taint the picturesque town if the supermarket giant became the new benefactor.

The library is still advertising for a sponsor on its website, though with the caveat of the University’s approval.

“Any proposal for a major benefaction, including the recognition of such generosity through appropriate naming opportunities, would be subject to the University’s stringent approval processes,” they say.

Professor Mary Beard, a Classics lecturer at Newnham College, Cambridge, said that University Library “is the most precious resource in the whole of East Anglia – it’s our equivalent of the Large Hadron Collider”.

University Library is a deposit library and can obtain one copy of everything published in the UK. It also houses famous manuscripts such as the Gutenberg Bible from 1455, the earliest European example of a book produced using moveable type.

Students appear to appreciate that to stay competitive, their library needs money, but are worried that a sponsor could get in the way of the library’s purpose.

“I would have no real problem with sponsorship as long as it was a reputable company and if it meant improvements to library services. There shouldn’t be intrusive advertising or a bias in the books they get in,” said Tom Tyldesley, a student at Christ’s College, Cambridge.

Another Cambridge student, Adam Wawrzynski, agreed but expressed fondness for University Library’s current name.

“The sponsorship of the library is a good idea, as it would provide extra funding to maintain its high standard. Whatever it may be named officially, it will always be the UL to us,” Wawrzynski said.

New Hall at Cambridge was recently renamed Murray Edwards College after a benefactor donated £30 million. According to Wawrzynski, students simply “ignore” the new name because it  “sounds far too much like a bookmakers”.