By now, many Oxford research students have consulted special collections material in the reading rooms of the refurbished and renamed Weston Library, or perhaps have enjoyed a cup of tea in its new café. The building now houses the majority of the University’s special collections—not only old books and manuscripts, but also collections of private papers and even the archives of Oxfam. At the end of Trinity Term, a group of Ertegun scholars enjoyed a behind-the-scenes look at these special collections.
After drinks with Chris Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections for the Bodleian Libraries, scholars ascended to one of the new teaching rooms to examine a handful of untraditional items from the collection. My favourite was a lavishly decorated fourteenth-century Portolan chart, ostensibly designed for maritime navigation but apparently undamaged by actual use at sea, and probably too elaborate and expensive for such use.
In the Weston’s new conservation space, conservator Andrew Honey exhibited a number of medieval parchment codices in various stages of rebinding. With rigorous attention to the material aspects of textual artefacts, the Bodleian seeks to keep books as books, so they can still be experienced in much the same way that their first readers encountered them. Remarkably, this verisimilitude extends beyond basic structural integrity to the imitation of authentic stitching, parchment and calfskin bindings, and boardwork.
The tour concluded with a view from the Weston’s terrace, with spectacular south-facing views of the city, including Magdalen Tower, the Old Bodleian, the Radcliffe Camera, the University Church, and Tom Tower. It truly is the best view in all of Oxford!