The Bodleian Library isnít a building full of books. Itís much more. Oxford Universityís famous research library occupies a complex of historic buildings including the Divinity School, built in 1488 for the teaching of theology and to use as the Universityís first examination room. Its elaborate vaulted ceiling and carved bosses make it one of the great masterpieces of English Gothic architecture.
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Connected to the Divinity School is the 17th century Convocation House and Chancellors Court, where the Universityís governing body transacted its business and where parliament met during the Civil War. Above this building is the Duke Humfrey Library, a medieval treasure house of rare books and manuscripts. Itís named after its original donor, Humfrey Duke of Gloucester, brother of Henry V. Among the scholars who have studied in Duke Humfrey Library are 5 kings, 40 Nobel Prize winners, 25 British prime ministers, and writers such as Oscar Wilde, C S Lewis and J R Tolkien. Central to the library is the Old Schools Quadrangle, begun in 1613. The doors still bear the Latin names of the schools to which they gave access.
The Bodleian is one of only six libraries entitled to receive a copy of every book published in the UK. It is now home to over 7 million volumes, stored on over 110 miles (180km) of shelving. Many of the books are found in the New Bodleian Library building, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. Itís located in Broad Street in Oxfordís circular building, the Radcliffe Camera (designed by James Gibbs and completed in 1749) and in underground storage beneath Radcliffe Square. The Exhibition Room displays selected treasures of the Bodleian in changing displays.
In the gift shop through which you walk to take the guided tour, beginning at the Divinity School, are found many exclusive lines based on the Libraryís own treasures. The guided tour lasts an hour or more, and it visits the Duke Humfrey Library, the Divinity School, Convocation House, and Court. If you want to see it all you will need to book as a group for the extended tour which also visits individual reading rooms, the Radcliffe Camera, and the underground passages and tunnels serving the book-stacks.
Broad Street, Oxford
Tel: 01865 277224
Open: Divinity School, Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm, Sat 9am-4.30pm; audio tours available from shop; by guided tour, phone ahead to reserve space, tours not open to children under the age of 11; limited access for disabled due to the age of buildings; closed Sundays, Christmas and Easter as well as some university days (check website for any closing days or phone). Tour times vary from two per day in winter to four per day in summer.
Web: Bodleian Library