The Guardian today ran an article regarding the new Bodleian Library facility at South Marston.
Today Professor Andrew Hamilton and Dr Sarah Thomas, respectively vice chancellor of Oxford University and head of one of the oldest and most famous libraries in the world, will hold a little ceremony in the unlikely surroundings of a very large tin shed in Swindon.
The building is no beauty, though the sheer scale of the 745,000 barcoded storage trays on 153 miles of shelving, conveniently close to a motorway junction at South Marston, is awesome. However, the new £26m books repository, which will eventually hold 8.4m of the least frequently requested books and periodicals, is the key to unlocking a transformation of the Bodleian’s famous buildings in Oxford.
The Bodleian has been running out of space, and colonising all its neighbouring buildings, almost from the moment it opened its doors in 1602. Already home to the priceless contents of other libraries dating back to the 14th century, since then Thomas and her predecessors have wrestled with a collection including every new book published in England, growing at the rate of 1,000 books a day.
The stacks in the New Bodleian – the 1930s attempt to solve the problem once and for all – have officially been listed as 130% full. Its 11 storeys of bookstacks were connected to the historic heart of the library by an eccentric underground books railway, so unreliable that the most precious volumes were carried across the traffic-choked street by hand. The building is already being gutted for a handsome transformation by architects Wilkinson Eyre, incorporating new study and reference spaces – and for the first time a museum-quality gallery. Visitors will be able to see treasures including the world’s largest collection of copies of the Magna Carta (four) a Shakespeare First Folio, the papers of six prime ministers and Alan Bennett, and the manuscript of Frankenstein.
Once full, the tin shed will be connected to Oxford by two van deliveries a day, solving a problem that Thomas described as “desperate”, and confessed was literally keeping her awake at night.
The original proposal, for a store positioned not only within sight of the dreaming spires, but on a flood plain on the outskirts of Oxford, provoked furious opposition from conservationists and environmental campaigners. Finding the utterly unglamorous, boringly practical Swindson site was the answer to fervent prayers: it even has room to expand if, in 20 years time, Thomas’s successor is lying awake wondering where on earth to put the next week’s flood of books.
The Independent also have an article on the new site.