As Oxford University’s newest state-of-the-art library opens this weekend after a three-year, £80m transformation, we invite you to see inside for the first time.
After three years concealed behind hoardings, the Bodleian’s new Weston Library finally has its official opening this weekend. But Oxford Today can invite you inside early to savour the reading rooms, glimpse the book stacks and see the conservators at work.
Technically, this is a refurbishment of Giles Gilbert Scott’s New Bodleian Library, which first opened in 1940. However, ‘refurbishment’ understates what has been achieved over four years at a cost of £80 million.
The result is a new library behind a familiar façade, housing three reading rooms, a visiting scholars’ centre, a lecture theatre, seminar rooms and a centre for digital scholarship.
There are also storage facilities housing the Libraries’ collections, a café, a shop and rooms where conservators do their work, right. The ST Lee exhibition gallery will host a changing programme of displays, and a further gallery — the Treasury — will display some of the Bodleian's most important works. Collections at the Weston include the largest set of pre-1500 printed books in any university library; one of the largest concentrations of political manuscripts anywhere; unrivalled holdings on poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and Gerard Manley Hopkins; and key archives of papers by J R R Tolkien, C S Lewis and their circle.
The library extends three storeys below ground level and houses a new floating stack, below, while the main entrance hall greets visitors with a cathedral-like, lofty atrium full of light.
One eloquent feature of the design by Wilkinson Eyre Architects is the wall of shelves in the Charles Wendell David Reading Room, interspersed by tall windows that look across Broad Street and the Old Bodleian to the dome of the Radcliffe Camera, above.
For the three reading rooms, which opened in September to readers, three-legged oak chairs (below) have been made by Isokon Plus to a competition-winning design by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby.
Three basement levels provide nearly 40km of shelving, above, enough to accommodate 1.4 million volumes.
The opening weekend (21-22 March) includes 45-minute tours of the Weston Library all day Saturday and Sunday, as well as a programme of talks, a printing press demonstration, a showcase on book conservation, and musical performances by Oxford Jazz Agency and Oxford Pro Musica Singers. Talks will be by Bodley’s Librarian Richard Ovenden, curators and heads of departments, Wilkinson Eyre co-founder Jim Eyre and Gilbert Scott expert David Lewis. An exhibition, Marks of Genius: Masterpieces from the Collections of the Bodleian Libraries, comprises books and manuscripts from across the Bodleian collections and looks at genius, learning and the role of a university library.
There is a book accompanying the exhibition, and there is one forthcoming too on the library’s transformation, New Bodleian: The Making of the Weston Library. Hoardings on Broad Street are coming down and the new glass frontage and entrance there will be open on Saturday to welcome visitors and readers.
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All images © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford / John Cairns, reproduced by kind permission.