£5 million is being given by Julian Blackwell of the eponymous bookshop chain to allow the Bodleian library to build a new hall to open access to its collection and put much of it on permanent public view for the first time.
An exhibition hall will be created in the New Bodleian Library thanks to the generous donation. The hall, to be named Blackwell Hall in recognition of the donor, will display the Bodleian Library’s collection of British literary treasures that had until now been accessible to only a few scholars.
The priceless collection includes the earliest complete book written in the English language, one of only eight surviving Gutenberg Bibles and Shakespeare’s First Folio. It also holds the original manuscripts of many book classics including Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and a map given to the king and queen of Spain, which was probably used in discussions with Christopher Columbus before his 1492 voyage to discover the New World.
The earliest complete book written in English, Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Care, translated by King Alfred in about 890 AD is another of the treasures. There are also many original handwritten texts of popular classics such as Frankenstein, as well as more than 10,000 medieval manuscripts. Other treasures include an embroidered handwritten book by Queen Elizabeth I.
Mr. Blackwell said of his reasons for the donating, "The Bodleian is unique. It not only has the largest and most important university collections in the world, but it is leading the development of cutting-edge information services which are so vital to academic research."
Keeper of special collections at the Bodleian, Richard Ovenden said, "Julian Blackwell’s magnificent donation to the Bodleian reflects the long established connections between these two institutions.
"Not only are they neighbors on Oxford’s Broad Street, but for 130 years they have jointly engaged in projects which have both celebrated and preserved our global written heritage," he added.
The Bodleian Library is the biggest university library in Britain and second in size in the country only to the British Library.
Founded in 1602, the Bodleian has a copy of almost every book printed and an extra 5,000 books are added to its catalogue each week. It holds more than 9 million volumes as well as artifacts such as a chair made for Francis Drake from the beams of the Golden Hind in which he circumnavigated the globe between 1577 and 1580.
Only on very rare occasions are items put on public display, such as last December when the library put four 13th century copies of the Magna Carta on view for just six hours.
An event will be held on Saturday in honour of the library’s founder Sir Thomas Bodley, when the donation will be formally announced.