‘I concluded at the last to set up my staff at the library door in Oxon; being thoroughly persuaded, that in my solitude, and surcease from the Commonwealth affairs, I could not busy myself to better purpose…’
— Sir Thomas Bodley
Oxford’s libraries are among the most celebrated in the world, particularly for their incomparable collections of books and manuscripts.
The Bodleian Libraries’ printed collections reflect its history as the library of the University of Oxford since 1602, with strengths in theology, law, the classical tradition and mathematics – although almost all subjects and genres are represented somewhere. These collections have, over the years, turned the library into a research resource of national and international importance.
The Bodleian Library is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and in Britain is second in size only to the British Library. First opened to scholars in 1602, it incorporates an earlier library built by the University in the 15th century to house books donated by Humfrey, Duke of Gloucester. Since 1602 it has expanded, slowly at first but with increasing momentum over the last 150 years, to keep pace with the ever-growing accumulation of books, papers and other materials. Thomas Bodley’s foresight in signing his 1612 agreement with the Stationers’ Company means that the Bodleian is now a Legal Deposit library and receives a copy of every book printed in the United Kingdom.
The Libraries now house their special collections – including rare books, manuscripts, archives, music, ephemera and maps – in more than 40km of secure, state-of-the-art storage facilities in the Weston Library. Key materials found within the Weston Library include the largest collection of pre-1500 printed books in a university library, a highly important collection of manuscripts from medieval Europe and the Byzantine Empire and one of the largest concentrations of modern British political manuscripts.
The combined collections of the Libraries group number more than 12 million printed items, in addition to 80,000 e-journals and vast quantities of materials in many other formats. The Libraries seek to make the most effective use of their immensely rich existing holdings and to build on them for the future, while adapting to the changing needs of a large, active and diverse academic community.
For more information, see our full history of the Bodleian and interactive timeline.