The Bodleian’s struggle to store its vast collection of books may finally be at an end, as the library has bought a new site in Swindon.
Up to 8 million books will be stored at the new site, 28 miles away from Oxford.
The purchase will come as a relief to library staff, who have labelled the Bod’s current facilities as “abysmal,” with overcrowded stacks operating at 130% of their capacity.
The Library must still gain specific planning permission from Swindon Council for the construction.
The library’s Director Dr Sarah Thomas commented, “we shall be working with the Swindon planners closely… We are encouraged to think that we’ll have a positive outcome.”
The Bod’s previous plans for a book depository in Osney Mead were quashed six months ago, after heritage groups complained that the building would spoil Oxford’s iconic skyline.
Tony Joyce, the chairman of Oxford Civic Society, which opposed the Osney Mead development said, “Swindon is perhaps as close as could have been expected to find a suitable alternative, given the University’s difficulty in identifying any closer possibilities.”
But students have raised concerns about the environmental impact of transporting books between Oxford and Swindon.
A first year PPE student said, “the facility is going to be about 25 miles from the city centre…I’m wondering whether this distance won’t worsen the availability of the books. Also, what about the environmental cost of such trips? I mean, I’m glad that the Bodleian has chances for expansion, but not sure how it will work in practice.”
The spokesperson for University commented, “in terms of book delivery, the aim is to minimise carbon emissions, wherever possible… The demand for frequent daily deliveries is expected to be low as the volumes housed in the facility will be predominantly low-use items.”
The Bodleian also plans to buy electronic journals in order to minimise the environmental impact of keeping so many books 28 miles away from Oxford.
Once it is operational, over 3 million volumes will be transferred from the New Bodleian in the largest movement of books since the British Library moved to Bloomsbury.
Director Sarah Thomas stressed that the collection will be well cared for during and after the transfer.
She said, “these aren’t cabbages that are being moved, they are precious and often unique objects. It really matters to people that we can retrieve and transport them accurately and reliably – and with respect.”
The book storage facility in Swindon is part of a new academic plan for libraries in Oxford. The plan, which will cost at least £116m, involves extensive developments to the New Bodleian, the creation of temporary storage and a service for rare books in the Radcliffe Science Library.