What is the main appeal of Bodleian Library?
The main appeal is really what we saw outside… that it was for Oxford academics… In other words, people can come here and apply to become a reader even if you’re not a university member. If you can document that you actually have a very good reason why you need to use the library, either for a book or for a doctorate or whatever, or lecture series, then people from all over the world come here to use this fantastic resource of rather rare books. Also as I said to you earlier, what we call modern papers are things that are for instance correspondents, diaries, from more recent times. So there is a lot of information that you can’t get from anywhere else, which is held here.
Even on the internet?
Even on the internet. You might be able to see some, for instance there might be… from the Frankenstein manuscript of Mary Shelley, I think that you probably would be able to find a couple of pages or so, showing a scan of… and these were just loose sheets where you can see what she wrote. And then Percy Shelley came in with his clever clogs comments, and rude things! [Laughs] It’s quite interesting to see. So that, in other words, the attraction here is that this is quite a unique collection.
Do you find that there are more visitors to the library now, when digital books are popular, or were there more when they weren’t?
I don’t know that that has changed that much… yes, because it’s quite a unique collection.
How would you say that this library, other than being unique and having things that you can’t find anywhere else is different from just a local library?
All these manuscripts I talked about. I mean it goes back to papyrus, to sort of charred remains of papyrus script from Pompeii and Herculaneum. We’re talking about very unusual things.
So this library then is very different from the average library we come across?
Yes, and of course Oxford is full of other libraries. The colleges have their own libraries, departments have libraries and so this is the ‘old’ library, this is where you read the stuff which you can’t get anywhere else.
So what do you think is the future of libraries, or this library in particular?
Well I think that what we see, is with one of the benefactors I didn’t point out to you upstairs was the Millan Foundation in America, and they have given money that started up Oxford digital library. And also another project which you can find, where I said about the medieval images, and that means that you… all over the world anybody can access this for free, just go into Bodleian Library and look for these sort of key words you’ll be able to find… And the Google Project of course, they as well were scanning a whole lot of old books, of printed books and so, the future is I think that it will probably be even more used, for historical reasons.
Would you say that people come to this library mostly for non-fiction… there’s not really much fiction here is there?
Well people come for academic reasons, is that correct? Not just to enjoy reading fiction?
Yes, yes, you can also see people here enjoying reading. [Laughs] And you have the poet, uh, whats his name again… There are local writers who want to use this as a sort of study to visit their own work in the upper reading room, and you’re very lucky to find anything on open shelves that you’re looking for, you have to order a book. And then it depends on where it’s housed, how long it takes to come before you can use it. In the old days I remember it would take two hours, so you would go in and write down all your order slips. Now of course you can do it online, and you can do it remotely so the books are ready for you when you come in. And you’re ready to start working.
So you would say there’s more fiction that non-fiction?
[Laughs] Yeah I mean English literature, yes. When it comes to foreign books, I mean say books in French, they would probably be housed in the Taylorian institute library which is where the modern languages are. So you have to think of the campus being all over town.
How do you categorise the books that you say you have to order?
I think… they are categorised by, y’know for instance, English literature would have ‘Eng Lit’ on the shelf mark. And then you would have part of the Bodleian Library is the Radcliffe Science Library which is further up the road. So there you would have books on natural sciences for instance. So it’s all very complicated, it’s a big web really! [laughs]
Can I ask what your name is?
Its Rigmor Batsvik… you can probably google me.