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Books + Ideas, Oxford, — October 2011

I joined the Oxford Council library soon after arrival in Oxford, but never found much to get excited by in their holdings, since they have neither academic books nor much in the way of world literature.

It wasn't till recently that I got around to getting a Bodleian readers card. This was very easy - I just turned up with the forms and paid my money - with the only unusual feature being that they made me speak the oath out loud!

The first book I looked for in the catalogue was The Development of Atmospheric Circulation Models. I couldn't find this, however, and an email query revealed that, being a copyright deposit library, the Bodleian doesn't actually buy copies of books published in the UK — and their official copy hadn't arrived yet. So there are drawbacks to your institution having a deposit library! Fortunately I managed to get a review copy of this from Cambridge University Press.

The second book I went looking for was volume 28 of The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes, because a group of friends has been debating how much Marx Keynes had read, on which a letter from him to Bernard Shaw looked like it might shed some light. The main Bodleian library has a copy of this, but when I put a Hold on that I got an email back saying that my request had been cancelled because the work was "being transferred to BSF Swindon". This volume is also held by some of the college libraries, but apparently getting access to those can be difficult even for members of the university... I will have to see if my sister can get me into the Christ Church library.

The third book I looked for was Zhou Ruchang's From Noble to Humble: Cao Xueqin and the Dream of the Red Chamber. This turned out to be in the Bodleian Chinese Studies Library, so that was the first of the libraries I visited. This is a nice modern room, with easy access to the collection and desks with convenient power sockets, so it will be quite a comfortable place to bring my laptop and write a review. (As an external reader I'm not allowed to actually borrow books.)

There was a petition on the front desk here opposing the closing of the library, so I suspect the Bodleian is going to do what Fisher library did at Sydney and close some of its smaller specialist libraries. Many of the libraries at Oxford University aren't part of the Bodleian, however, so there's a limit to how far this can go. The college libraries in particular are unlikely to be assimilated — apparently when everything was centrally catalogued some of the colleges didn't even want the world to know what they had.

The Cherwell magazine recently ran a story on Oxford's Lesser-Loved Libraries (hat tip Sophia) which will make a useful guide. I also have a recommendation for the American Studies library — from a plant biologist who could presumably be sure he wasn't going to be accosted there by students or colleagues.


  1. I am jealous for two reasons 1) you are in a part of the world that despite the difficulties in actually getting hold of it, you theoretically have access to The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes, and 2) you have a group of friends debating how much Marx Keynes had read - what a wonderful world you are living in! :)

    Comment by Rachael Krinks — October 2011
  2. Good heavens, I can't believe it ! Of all places, Oxford, a seat of learning is making life difficult for the serious readers to borrow books.

    Any exchange between GBS and John Maynard Keynes must be a good read. I can't say I know much about GBS, but I do know of his witticism and sharp mind. I remember reading his stoush with Arthur Conan Doyle on the sinking of the Titanic. I was onto the the Titanic many, many years before the movie. John Maynard Keynes' engagement with GBS is not to be missed. GBS could surely make a dry economic debate come to life.

    Being a slow reader, if I get through a dozen books from cover to cover per year, it is a good year. From your homepage, it is astonishing the breadth and depth of your reading. I know of no others coming remotely close. Therefore, it surprised me not you abandoned your Ph. D. ambitions. It is just too narrow, too restrictive, not lack of ability.

    These days, I read only the popular titles spruik on radio and reviews and only from the library. I do want to buy the Happiest Refugee by Ahn Do,. I have waited too long to borrow it, besides, it is a good book to own. I am now reading American Prometheus, J. Robert Oppenheimer. This is the second biography of the great scientific mind of the 20th. century I am reading, with a gap about fifteen years in between. No, I didn't buy or borrow it. I found the book lying around at work for anyone who was interested.

    Comment by DL — October 2011
  3. A lot of the humanities libraries will, as I mentioned earlier, shortly be combined in a new site called something like the Radcliffe Humanities pole (can't remember the exact jargon). This might be quite good for cross-disciplinary work; and it can't be much uglier than the current English Faculty Library. In the meantime I recommend Rhodes house (Pre-Raphaelite tapestries; and the poshest loos in Oxford) and the Sackler. If you want to visit the Taylorian, do let me know! it is great for slightly dingy splendour. There is also an underground link between the Radcliffe Camera and the old Bodleian which is now open to readers - it would be a good place to go if Oxford were being bombed.

    Comment by Jenny — October 2011
  4. Rachael: Surely one of the Brisbane libraries holds the Keynes collected writings?

    Jenny: So I should visit all the little humanities libraries before they get assimilated?

    Comment by danny — October 2011
  5. Hi Danny,

    I work at the Bodleian, providing access to materials made inaccesible by the moves. If you contact me via email, I can assist you in accessing alternative copies of volume 28 of The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes.

    Comment by Rachel Atkinson — October 2011
  6. Thanks very much for that offer Rachel, but I managed to find the letter I was after just this afternoon.

    I got a tour of the Upper Library at Christ Church thrown in as well. They've got a lovely little exhibition of some highlights there (open to the public, but they don't advertise it as they aren't set up for the Harry Potter tourist hordes descending).

    Comment by danny — October 2011
  7. You're welcome Danny. I'm glad you managed to see a copy and get a library tour as well! If a similar situation ever crops up in future, please do let me know and I'll do what I can to assist.

    Comment by Rachel Atkinson — November 2011

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