The removal of step-ladders in Duke Humfrey’s library due to health and safety concerns has resulted in students being unable to access books on the top shelves in the Arts end of the galleries.
Last year Health and Safety office deemed that the use of step ladders by staff to reach books on the top shelves could result in an accident. Thus, it ordered for the ladders to be removed.
There is no temporary solution in place meaning that several students are currently denied access to books, which they desperately need. A substantial number of early modern printed books has been made inaccessible. Many of the books are not available elsewhere in Oxford.
Kelsey Williams, a graduate student at Balliol explained how not being able to access the book ‘Delitiæ poetarum Scotorum’, would have a detrimental effect on his work.
He said, “Access to it is necessary for my research and when I do eventually consult a copy, I will be forced to waste a day traveling to London and looking at the one in the British Library, despite the fact that I can practically see the Bodleian’s copy every time I walk into Duke Humfreys.”
He dismissed the idea that there was a health and safety risk, saying, “There is no health and safety issue meriting the ladders’ removal. The galleries are perfectly safe and unless someone is simply being careless there is no more danger of falling than of falling off a chair.”
Another graduate, Sam Fallon, expressed frustration at not being able to access books. He said, “I think it’s kind of ridiculous, bureaucracy in overdrive.”
When he requested a book from the top shelf, his book request was cancelled with the notice, “Unable to fetch, book kept on top shelf in gallery. Due to new health and safety measures, step ladders can no longer be used.”
Laurence Benson, Director of Administration and Finance explained, “The balcony has a low rail and we have been instructed by the health and safety office that this increases the risk to those in the balcony…as part of the process the restriction on the use of ladders on the balcony have been introduced.”
He said that the solution to the problems has proved to be “time-consuming”. He added, “The library would prefer to keep the books in their original historic location – where they have been safely consulted for 400 years prior to the instructions from the Health and Safety office.”
Several students have suggested that the books be moved to another location, where they can be easily accessed.
Kelsey Williams said, “Their number is relatively small by the standards of the Bodleian’s vast storage spaces and there would be no difficulty finding room for them elsewhere.”
However, one student claimed that senior officials had forbidden the removal of the books as it would result in the Duke Humfrey’s being “insufficiently pretty for the tourists”.