The Weston Library staged its public opening on Saturday 21st March, after a three year refurbishment, costing £80 million.
The work has transformed what was the New Bodleian on Broad Street into a state of the art library, with a café, shop, lecture theatre, digital displays and exhibition galleries. This includes their leading exhibition, Marks of Genius: Masterpieces from the Collections of the Bodleian Libraries, which contains world-famous items from the Bodleian’s exclusive collections, such as one of their engrossments of the Magna Carta.
The New Bodleian’s building had been deteriorating for some time and there was concern about the threat to the condition of some of its most valuable artefacts. London-based Wilkinson Eyre architects retained the historical exterior of Giles Gilbert Scott’s Grade II listed building while modernising the interior, converting it into a twenty-first century centre of research, study, digitisation and conservation.
Bodley’s Librarian Richard Ovenden said, “This project has been an amazing opportunity to transform an unloved library building at the heart of Oxford, and to support the needs of the University long into the future. In a city full of libraries, it is one of the most significant and exciting library transformations for many years.
“We are particularly delighted to be able to welcome the public into the Weston Library, to help them appreciate and enjoy the collections built up in the University over centuries, and to engage with the ground-breaking research which surrounds these collections in Oxford. We are immensely grateful to all the donors and funders who have supported this tremendous project, particularly the Garfield Weston Foundation and Oxford University Press for their inspirational donations.”
The library includes refurbished reading rooms, which are all equipped with the new ‘Bodleian Chair’. This was designed by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, the winners of a national competition. The chair is a three-legged oak chair which tilts forwards and backwards, built by Isokon Plus.
The Centre for Digital Scholarship in the Weston Library hosts technological research, while the Visiting Scholar’s Centre invites international scholars to carry out their research. Scientists and librarians are working together to help unveil new information about the artefacts held by the Bodleian Libraries.
The newly opened library will stock the Bodleian Libraries’ special collections. This includes archives, music, manuscripts, rare books, ephemera and maps including the largest collection of pre-1500 printed books in a university library from medieval Europe and the Byzantine Empire. It also houses one of the largest concentrations of modern British political manuscripts and a copy of Plato’s complete works in Greek, given to Elizabeth I by the Chancellor of the University of Oxford in 1564.
With donations from Oxford University Press, the Garfield Weston Foundation and the President of Blackwell’s Bookshop, the project was able to largely keep to their budget of £78 million.
Anna Lewis, a Biochemist undergraduate told Cherwell, “The combination of a historic exterior with a modern working library is part of what the University is all about – keeping up with the cutting edge of research without losing the history and tradition that has brought us here. It sounds like a really useful facility for students and I’m really excited to use it as a study space.”
The opening weekend also sees the launch of the Oxford Literary Festival, in which the Bodleian Libraries is a Cultural Partner, with the Weston Library hosting many of its events over the nine days from Saturday 21st March. For information on the Marks of genius exhibition visit http://genius.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/.