Visiting Special Collections at the Bodleian: Practical Notes (II)

When I last wrote some practical notes about accessing manuscripts at the Bodleian, Special Collections was still in its temporary home while the fancy new Weston Library was being constructed. That fancy new library is now up and running, and so it’s time to revise my previous advice!

At the time of writing other not-special-collections parts of the Weston Library are still under construction, and the collections themselves are still gradually being moved into the building (not a process which anyone wants recklessly to rush!).

  • You can order manuscripts by email, by telephone or by visiting the reading room and filling out one of the green order slips yourself. For a remote order they’ll need to know your name, library card number (if you have one at that point) and the shelfmark of the item you’re ordering.
  • At present most of the manuscripts have been moved into the new building and can be fetched up in about an hour. But if you’re coming to Oxford from elsewhere on a research visit it’s still worth contacting the library in advance.
  • The good news is that, despite the major move taking place, most of the manuscripts are available. I’m told that manuscripts should only become unavailable when they’re actually being moved into the Weston. Again, though, this is a good reason to get in touch in advance! I range reasonably widely between different manuscript collections and I haven’t had any problems yet…
  • You can find details about getting a reader’s card here. The Admissions Office lives inside the Weston Library—it’s to the right of Blackwell Hall, the large public foyer with automatic doors on the south side of the building.
  • On arrival at the readers’ entrance of the Weston you will find yourself in a foyer with a locker room on your left. (You can also get to this area from Admissions.) The usual special collections restrictions apply—no coats, bags/cases, pens, food and drink (including water)—and you can store these things here. The lockers require a single £1 coin deposit.
  • Once you’re through the library-card-operated turnstile, the Western manuscripts reading room is on the first floor. You will need to sign in at the desk immediately on your left as you enter.
  • There are two connected rooms. You collect manuscripts you’ve ordered by speaking to the staff at the desk in the first one you find yourself in. Then you’ll need to carry your manuscripts through into the larger room on the right to work with them.
  • The open shelves in the reading room itself carry many facsimiles and reference aids, together with an impressive range of manuscript-related monographs and edited collections. Catalogues and handlists relating directly to Bodleian or Oxford collections tend to be in this room. More general catalogues and aids (Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries, Briquet, &c &c) are in the slightly separate gallery area— ask the staff about this and they can point you towards it and open the gallery door for you. SOLO doesn’t cover manuscripts but will give you shelfmarks for these reference books.
  • Most medieval manuscripts are catalogued briefly in the Bod’s Summary Catalogue, which is available in the room. If you know a manuscript’s shelfmark but not its SC number, consult the first volume. Some SC entries are just references to one of the collection-specific quarto catalogues, also available nearby.
  • You can find some details for some collections online here.
  • And there are some other catalogues too, such as Elizabeth Solopova’s recent and commendably detailed one of Latin Liturgical Psalters in the Bodleian Library.
  • There is a small card-entry break room available to Bodleian readers (in a separate building—the entrance is off the courtyard of the Old Bodleian itself) which is good when you have your own food and it’s too cold/wet to sit and eat outside.
  • The Weston has its own tearoom/cafe, on the ground floor, to the right as you come through the turnstile. There are many other eating places nearby, though the centre of Oxford isn’t the cheapest area. The Turl Street Kitchen and The Missing Bean seem fairly popular. If you fancy a medieval building, the Vaults & Gardens cafe occupies the university’s old convocation room, built c. 1320.
  • And if you want to fill a lunch hour with a museum you have a lot of options, of which the nearest are probably the Bodleian’s own exhibition space (accessible through Blackwell Hall) and the Museum of the History of Science.

Lots more information on specific practical visiting matters is available on the Bodleian website.

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