A guide to Oxford’s lesser-loved libraries

The Taylorian Institute by Rebecca Loxton

The Taylorian is primarily for linguists, but the Taylor Institute library houses a rich collection of books and manuscripts relating to diverse aspects of European literature and language, and is open to any Oxford University student with even a vague interest in those fields. The library need not be intimidating: like any other University library in Oxford, you simply need to swipe your Bod card to gain entry.

A little-known fact about this lesser-known library is that it is the only research library in the country in which one can also take out books. Perhaps neither modern languages nor European literature tickle your fancy. Like most Oxonian hang-outs, the library’s impressive collection of books is complemented by imposing paintings and solemn busts, and in the humble opinion of the writer is worth the visit if only to admire the interior. A spiral staircase ascends to the second floor, with books arranged around a balcony. Descend to the periodicals room, slip through to the adjoining reading room or the stacks in the basement. There is plenty of peaceful space in which to lay out your books, tap away at your laptop or soak up the knowledge contained in the leather-bound volumes that surround you. A haven for bookworms across the University, the Taylor Institute can be found at St. Giles’ and is at least worth a look. You might find you’re hooked. Or perhaps you’ll simply find yourself gazing out of the window. The view is pretty impressive too.   

 

Philosophy Faculty Library by Emily Cousens

Situated moments from every first year philosopher’s most hated road, Logic Lane, the philosophy faculty manages to provide a relaxing retreat from the fast paced, stressful, day to day life of an Oxford student. A traditionally picturesque Oxford building, the philosophy faculty is in the perfect situation for philosophers; right behind the lectures in Exam Schools and opposite Christchurch meadows where thoughts can be collected in the lush open spaces whilst on a soothing solitary stroll. It seems apt that the philosophy faculty does not contain the word ‘library’ in its name, because whilst serving the functions of a place where books can be borrowed it soon becomes so much more to those who know and love it. In fact, ‘The Philosophy Family’ would seem a more appropriate name than ‘The Philosophy Library’.

Librarians say hi and are up for a chat whilst the oval room provides a dinner table like environment for studying.  From undergraduates to the mythical creatures of All Souls college the common room serves as a comfortable place for anyone to chat, grab a 20p cup of coffee and have browse of the day’s newspapers. In the summer, the library becomes even more inviting due to its homely garden. There are a few benches for reading and philosophising to take you away far from any reminder of The Logic Manual to the intellectual corners of a summer’s day. Aristotle, Plato and John Stuart Mill would have loved it.

 

Radcliffe Science Library by Harry Scholes

The Radcliffe Science Library should probably be a home away from home for all species of vitamin D deficient scientists. I must confess that I have never borrowed a book from its dingy underground reading room and nor have many other scientists because our college libraries are normally so well stocked. This does not, however, prevent me from working in its fantastic upstairs rooms when I have a spare hour between lectures. The room I prefer, on level five, houses thrilling journals with gripping titles like the Union of Forest Research Organisations’ 1953 Proceedings of Congress amongst others. It is very conducive to productive work with its high ceilings, good lighting and wide tables. I dislike the downstairs Lankaster room, where the book collection is kept, and cannot fathom why people choose to sit there. So remember: always go upstairs, not down. On the ground floor there are tables for groups to collaborate and there are some sofas for well earned revision breaks. There is even a cafe that sells drinks and sandwiches and is a convenient place to buy lunch if you are up in the science area all day. Plus, the warden of the library wears a tail coat every day and carries a cane. What’s not to like?

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Oxford Central Library by Eleanor Sands 

If you’re short on light reading material and don’t fancy taking your textbook to bed, head to the newly-refurbished Oxford Central Library for a huge selection of fiction. Next door to Primark and on top of Halifax, the libraries is very central but is often overlooked by students because it’s not a university library, but it boasts an attractive display of new and recommended titles, a reasonable supply of foreign language books and an impressive music section. The non-fiction’s not bad either, but you’re probably best sticking to your college library for that. As a place to work, though, it’s worth knowing about: you’ll rarely have a problem finding somewhere comfy to sit, and the opening hours are better than many.

You can register for free in a few minutes, and the librarians don’t look at you disdainfully if you go for Marian Keyes rather than Dickens, as those in the EFL tend to. In fact, they don’t look at you at all, because they have snazzy new self-service machines- you can even, if you feel so-inclined, press the ‘safari’ or ‘deep sea’ options and listen to parrots squawking or waves crashing as you check out your bedtime reading.

 

English Faculty Library by Christy Edwall

Oxford has been home to a number of significant literary figures: Wilde, Arnold, Tolkien, Auden.  It is also a city of domes, cupolas, classical columns, jewelled chapels, and neo-Byzantine churches. It is therefore distinctly underwhelming to discover that the Oxford English Department hosts its collection in a building shared with Law and the Social Sciences which recalls the worst architectural contributions of the sixties. It looks like a building in which land proposals or VISAs are applied for (and refused). There is nothing to see here that will not suggest you might be in any other small city, entering the grim enforced cheer of a public service centre which has nothing indoors but laminated signs. And yet, this suggests something subversive: English students might not all be Bambi-eyed, butterfly-catching, soul-swooning romantics who drift around with solely The Waste Land between their ears. They can deal with functionalism. A library is a physical space which is, firstly, useful. English students read not only because ink gives them a physically pleasurable reaction but because it’s a compulsion. Texts are work, and though it’s not pretty, the EFL is the English student’s office, with quiet unwalled cubicles. It opens and shuts promptly. There are helpful services but none of them gratuitous. There are thousands of volumes and most of them (at least to me) seem written in. The pages here are not holy. They are the stuff of daily work.

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American Institute Library by Barbara Speed

The American Institute has blinds on the windows which automatically adjust to sunlight levels. It has fancy ergonomic lamps at every workstation, and if you have a chair by the window you get your own switch to open and close it. Essentially, there isn’t a library in Oxford that can make you feel less like a pretentious English student and more like you’re filling a key role in designing the next space station. Incredibly modern, filled with light and often quite eerily empty, the Institute has a relatively sparse collection of books, but is a brilliant place to work. There are portraits of American politicians, display cases containing key diplomatic documents, and while searching for the hard-to-find toilets you’ll stumble across a common room downstairs with a water cooler and space to chat.  The building looks out onto Mansfield college gardens, which is both a nice contrast to the Institute’s modernity and also an excellent way to procrastinate, since Mansfield students seem to use the garden exclusively for arguing, conspiring and romancing, apparently unaware that an enormous glass building filled with bored students is watching them. Open to all university students and tucked behind the Chemistry faculty on Parks’ Road, the American institute poses a happy alternative for students bored of domes, spires, and uncomfortable chairs (sort it out, Rad Cam.) So try it – and if you work out how to use the stupid window switches, let me know.

 

Library of African and Commonwealth Studies by Barnaby Brussles

The African Studies Library is one of my favourite places to study. Located in the Rhodes house building on South Parks Road, it’s a library that not many people know about (well, until now); its relatively unknown status is part of its charm. It’s quiet and spacious, which means that when you sit at the end of one of the long two-person desks in the main room, you feel completely undisturbed. You’re alone with just your books, the beautiful décor and high ceilings. Other high points include Rhodes house’s grand marble atrium, which creates a huge echo for every step you take, and the stunning garden, which may well be my favourite place to have a cigarette break in Oxford. To me, the only drawback is that the library’s computer room is full of ugly CRT monitors and that the room in general is quite uncomfortable to work in, but this sort of drawback is not unique to the African Studies library: there are many other otherwise beautiful libraries with ugly computer rooms. The porters and librarians are all really friendly, too: when I was lost looking for the garden, the porter actually took to it. All in all, the African Studies library is, in my opinion, one of the nicest libraries in Oxford. Just don’t do anything stupid like tell too many people about it or publish an article on it in the Cherwell, because then it might just lose its specialness.