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University of Oxford
Director of University Library Services and Bodley's Librarian

Speech of welcome and introduction to the Bodleian Library's International Conference 'A Celebration of Libraries'

Oxford, 18 September 2002

As you can imagine, it gives me enormous pleasure, as the 23rd Bodley's Librarian in an unbroken line spanning the last four centuries, to start this international library conference off with the very warmest of welcomes to you all. We really are delighted that so many of you have come from all parts of the world to join us, not only in marking the 400th anniversary of the opening of the Bodleian, but also in celebrating with us the historic and ongoing contribution of libraries to the intellectual and cultural life of our communities.

2002 is, of course, for us in the Bodleian, a particularly special year. It's quite an achievement to be still alive and kicking on your 400th birthday! And we like to think that one of the secrets of our longevity and success is that we continue to be faithful to the far-sighted vision and the singular generosity of our Founder, the Elizabethan diplomat Sir Thomas Bodley. Like Sir Thomas, we have embarked on a major upgrade of our historic buildings; and, like him, we have launched a Capital Campaign, to renew the Library, and to stir up what Bodley called "other men's benevolence".

Sir Thomas was very ambitious for his library: and so are we. He wanted it to be not simply a library for his university, but also a library for the world. And, today, we honour that ambition by welcoming through our doors a large and growing number of scholars, not just from all over the UK, but from all across the globe. Increasingly, too, through our Oxford Digital Library, we are harnessing the power of the Internet to serve a much wider global community, by taking our incomparable collections far beyond the confines of Oxford. We have much to celebrate today, and we are very happy that you have come to share this auspicious time with us.

But then, as we all know, these are also challenging times for libraries, as their historic role, like so many other things, is being called into question, in an age when digital technology and the networks are so radically changing the way we all live and work and communicate. What, then, is the enduring value of our libraries? What have they achieved? What will their future look like? What will they have to offer to our world in the years to come? And why should we celebrate them? These are just a few of the broad issues underlying the theme of this quatercentenary conference; and our programme of speakers has been arranged to address these questions in what we hope will be an enjoyable and stimulating way.

Our two speakers for this opening session will be coming at these questions from two very different angles. Jon Snow, one of the UK's most successful broadcasters, will give us a short keynote, looking at the world of libraries and information very much from the personal point of view of an information user. David Vaisey, on the other hand - my immediate predecessor as Bodley's Librarian - will be reflecting, as a professional librarian and archivist, on the enduring legacy of Sir Thomas Bodley. And those of you who, like me, have heard them both speak before, will know that we're in for a treat; and it's a real privilege for me to introduce them to you now.

Jon Snow, among many other things, is the Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, our sister institution in this great university town. But, for those of you from outside the UK (and I'm sure Jon won't mind my saying this), his even greater claim to fame in this country must be that he is "Mr Channel 4 News", having been the main presenter of what is undoubtedly our best evening TV news programme for the last 13 years. Jon Snow is, quite simply, a household name, a household face, and, deservedly, a widely acclaimed media star! He went to school here in Oxford; he read Law at Liverpool; he did Voluntary Service Overseas in Uganda; and he ran a drop-in centre for homeless teenagers in London's West End. He joined the Independent Television News as a journalist in 1976, and he has won a host of awards both as a writer and as a presenter. For four years in the 1980s he was ITN's Washington correspondent; and he has interviewed many world leaders, including Reagan, Gorbachev, Mandela, Ghadafi, and Arafat. Besides being Chancellor of Oxford Brookes, he is a visiting professor at Stirling University, and he also finds time to be a Trustee of the National Gallery and of the Tate Gallery. We are honoured that Jon was willing to take the evening off from Channel 4 News to be with us now; and it gives me very great pleasure to call on him to get our conference underway…

[Jon Snow's address]
Jon: thank you very much indeed for such a scintillating start to our proceedings!

Our second speaker, like our first, also has a towering reputation - and not just because he too is over six feet tall! David Vaisey was Bodley's Librarian from 1986 to 1996, and he served the Bodleian with distinction for well over 30 years. Having fought the Mau Mau in Kenya, he read History at Exeter College here in Oxford, and trained as an archivist. He was Head of the Bodleian's Department of Western Manuscripts for over a decade, and was Keeper of the University Archives well beyond his retirement. He has served on the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, as an Expert Adviser for English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund, he has been President of the Society of Archivists, and has been a Visiting Professor, Fellow, and Lecturer at many universities and colleges, especially in the US. He is an Emeritus Fellow of Exeter College, an Honorary Fellow of Kellogg College, and also of the Society of Antiquaries, and he has been decorated by both King Juan Carlos of Spain and by our own Queen Elizabeth II, who made him a CBE in 1993. He is the author of a standard work on 18th-century social history, and he is a popular lecturer all over the world. He is also the only person ever to hold the title of Bodley's Librarian Emeritus, and he is eminently well-qualified to talk to us about the enduring legacy of Sir Thomas Bodley.

It's my very great pleasure to invite him to do that for us now…
[David Vaisey's address]

[An abbreviated version of this speech, together with the texts of the speeches of Jon Snow and David Vaisey, was published in the 400th Anniversary Commemorative Issue of The Bodleian Library Record, Volume XVII, Number 6, October 2002.]

Reg Carr
18 September 2002