There are genuinely more than 100 libraries in Oxford, making it the biggest library system in the UK! So, here’s the 101 on a few of my favourite study spaces…
[If you want a handy guide to every library in Oxford, check out this Cherwell article:
Built in the sixteenth century, the Radcliffe Camera, called the “RadCam” affectionately by students, is the iconic Oxford library. If you ever gazed wistfully at photos of Oxford before you applied, it’s very likely they were of this building. For many, gathering in the quad by this building during Matriculation or strutting up the path to the library is the moment you feel you actually go to Oxford… or as your photo is snapped by tourists, like a Kardashian. There are three places to study in this library: the Upper RadCam, Lower RadCam and the Gladstone Link. The domed ceiling of the Upper RadCam is famously spectacular, and the desks under it or on the balconies are possibly the prime study real-estate. However, don’t discount the Lower RadCam. In the evening, it’s really rather cosy, with warm yellow light and wooden bookshelves everywhere. The Gladstone Link is an interesting one. One Cherwell writer once described it as “like a jet-bridge, minus the HSBC branding — or, as though you’re boarding a January flight to Tromsø, minus any promise of natural light”. Harsh but fair. However, each to their own.
Hogwarts meets Gossip Girl. There’s a reason Oxford was called “the city of dreaming spires”, and it certainly owes a great deal to the beautiful Old Bodleian. The library is not only the second largest in the UK and one of the oldest in Europe, but even houses a Christmas tree in its quad in winter! Inside the library proper there are many different rooms to choose from, all with great views of the city’s architecture and plenty of natural light. Wander past the Greek temple-esque entrance on Broad Street and you couldn’t be blamed for thinking the eternal Met Steps of Gossip Girl had been transported; students love to lounge on the steps and pillars of the Old Bod and the Weston opposite chatting, eating lunch and watching the world go past.
Your College Library is one of the best choices you have, so familiarise yourself with it. Each College has its own library (or two…) and they are usually stocked with loads of great resources; book and laptop stands, whiteboards, cushions, and of course, lots and lots of books. It’s your first port of call for any books you need, and I’ve always found mine to be very good. The librarians are also usually very friendly and often will order a book you need in if it’s important. To be honest, I have a bit of a soft spot for my College library — you can’t go without seeing a friendly face, and it also has a more relaxed vibe. Even PJs are acceptable library couture. Some libraries also have study rooms which are great for a study session with friends. Downsides include a very high risk of being distracted by friends and proximity to your bed.
When I said the Old Bodleian = Hogwarts, I meant it. This reading room, part of the Old Bod, was actually used as the Hogwarts library in the Harry Potter films! It’s an absolute bucket-list library, partly for the beauty of the library itself, partly for the strict entrance rules (possessions in plastic bags and no food or drink). Some might consider it the epitome of the “Dark Academia” aesthetic. Some might just want to look at the medieval ceiling. However, consider yourself warned, with the current booking system, it’s nigh impossible to get in. Maybe time to consider that Masters?
Obvious you may say, but definitely convenient! With mixed learning, using your room for zoom tutorials rather than public libraries is standard practice, but don’t shy away from taking lectures and other non-speaking/no-camera classes in the library. Find what works for you and go with that. Some people just work in their room, others prefer never to work there. Personally I do a bit of a mix; sometimes early in the morning or late at night it is the best place for getting those deadlines, but the proximity to my bed, like the College library, is dangerous, so I like to set up at one of the various Bodleian libraries during the day.
Though I personally find the Sackler, the Classics library, an assault on the eyes, there is definitive subject pride and community in going to your subject’s library. First of all, it is genuinely useful for taking out specialised books, but it’s also quite special to work in a library full of books just on your subject. Besides, if you take a visit to the women’s toilets of the Sackler, you soon meet years of scrawlings with advice on the best Classical cat name — Patroclaws anyone? — to the crisis d’essay. Truly helpful? No. Amusing? Yes.
Image credit: David Iliff via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)