Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Christ Church College Library, Oxford University

After our trip to the main Oxford University library, the Bodleian, we visited Christ Church College Library and Archives.  We talked to Christina, one of the special collections librarians. Christ Church College was founded in 1525, and the library was founded soon thereafter in 1562 in the upper rooms of a former Augustinian priory. The library moved into its present location in 1772. The history of the library in more detail can be found here
An outside view of the library:

Christ Church library is split up into two main collections—special collections and then modern collections. The special collections are made up of many rare and early printed books and manuscripts, which are arranged by the donor’s name—the library hasn’t changed the order of the collection since it opened in 1772. The provenance of the special collections are interesting, as many of the donors made notations in their books, which adds to their uniqueness; for example, in the Wake collection, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury, many of his books have notations. Another collection that they have is the Orrery collection, which is made up of early medical and science books. Many of their special collections also came with artifacts—one of the interesting artifacts that they had in their reading room was the oldest felt hat in the world. They also have a fairly extensive music collection, which contains many early printed scores, including a manuscript of Handel’s Water Music. There are also about 700 manuscript collections, in Roman, Byzantine, Arabic, and other languages, as well as royal manuscripts.   They’ve been attempting to put the special collections into the online catalog and are about two thirds of the way through the collection.

The reading room:
Christ Church library also serves as a research library for the students within the college, so in their modern collections they collect for all of the subjects within the college—since each college is autonomous, they buy much of the same material as other colleges, and space has become an issue as all of the colleges each have to have certain texts to support student learning.  Their modern collection is in their online catalog and also goes into the Oxford Union Catalog. Christ Church College students, faculty, and fellows are able to access the library; other academic researchers should make an appointment and let the college know how using the library will benefit their research. They have two or three researchers usually each day in their special collections.

The librarian that gave us the tour, Christina, was very gracious and helpful—I learned a lot from her about the library and Christ Church’s history.  The library itself was beautiful and their collections were very impressive. All of the Oxford University area was magnificent, with grand architecture. Oxford was just a charming little town.  

One other interesting thing about the library was that they had a Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) exhibit up when we were there, displaying his books about logic (he was a mathematician), some photos, poems, and facsimiles of the Alice books. Charles Dodgson is one of Christ Church’s most famous alumni and he still has a large presence, with an Alice shop across the street. We got to see the courtyard where Alice (the dean’s daughter) would play, and Dodgson would interact with her. We also learned that Charles Dodgson actually worked at the Christ Church library for a time and we got to see his probable office. We also went and saw the staircase that was used in the Harry Potter films that Harry and his friends go up when they first arrive at Hogwarts, and the room that the Great Hall was modeled after. All in all, our trip to Oxford was a fun day!

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