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


Exeter College, 15 March 1997

Mr Vice-Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen:

If Confucius had been making this speech rather than me, I have no doubt at all that he would have coined something like the following lapidary saying: "He who stands on the shoulders of others walks very tall". And in expressing the great honour which I feel in speaking to you today as Sir Thomas Bodley's 23rd Librarian, I am acutely conscious of how much both Sir Thomas and I owe to those who have filled this office before me - many of them with the highest distinction and with the greatest success and achievement. And none more so, I believe, than my immediate predecessor, David Vaisey, CBE.

I think there will be no-one in this distinguished gathering today who will demur from this, or who will be the least bit surprised that I should begin my first Founder's Luncheon speech with a warm personal tribute to David, whose professional life has been devoted, almost in its entirety, to the cause of the Founder whose memory we honour today. But to say simply that David Vaisey filled the office of Bodley's Librarian with distinction is, I believe, a serious understatement of the truth: David walked tall in it, both literally and figuratively; and under his leadership (I hesitate to use the word 'management', since I believe that such a word would inadequately express our estimate of his charismatic contribution to the Library's affairs) - under his leadership, the Bodleian has not merely survived those extraordinarily difficult times of which we who work in universities today are so acutely aware: it has thrived in spite of all the difficulties, and has done so in a way which is itself a tribute to David's example of hard work and dedication.

I firmly believe that the true test of the real quality, both of men and of institutions, is not how well they perform when times are easy and when resources are plentiful. As the Americans like to tell us, it's "when the going gets tough that the tough get going"; and most, if not all, of you will be well aware how tough the going has sometimes been in the recent past, both for David and for the Bodleian. So it's against that backcloth that I think it proper to pay fulsome tribute to David and his colleagues for all the good things that they have achieved in such difficult times.

Those of you who were here this time last year and heard David's valedictory address will perhaps remember what a bullish report he gave on the state of the Library then. I did not hear that speech, of course: in March 1996, I was still only dreaming of the spires; and David was only able to speak of his successor in general terms. But reading through the text of his speech, I could not fail to be struck by all the positive notes which David was able to sound. And I'm pleased to be able to reassure you now that it was not at all a case of demob-happy hyperbole on David's part! He was upbeat about many things, and I'm happy to say that in my first two months in office, I have found all of them to be wholly accurate.

David spoke about the widespread, and growing, support which the Library receives from so many generous benefactors and supporters - and you all know how significant a role David himself has played in fostering that important aspect of the Library's work. He described the phenomenal progress being made with the conversion of the Library's principal catalogue to machine-readable form, and the enormous investment being made by the University in the procurement of a new computer system to enhance the functionality of the Library's information services. He spoke about the creation of additional storage space out at Nuneham Courtenay, and of the 'curing' of the infamous problems of the Library's book-delivery service. He celebrated the award of major grants from the Higher Education Funding Council for England to tackle some of the cataloguing and conservation backlogs in the Library's outstanding collections of rare books and manuscripts. He paid tribute to the exemplary way in which the Library staff were coping with large increases in the number of readers, and in demands for stock and services right across the board. And he alluded to the development of an ambitious bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for major capital works in the Old Library complex. And I can tell you, 12 months on, that all these very positive developments are progressing well, with the result that I find myself in the very fortunate position of being able to inherit what, in the commercial world, would definitely be described as "a going concern". And I want you all, and especially David himself, to know that I share your great respect for the part that David has played over the years in keeping the ship well and truly afloat in such a positive and creative way.

That is not to say, of course, that the Library is not continuing to face considerable challenges ("opportunities" is how we're told to think of them nowadays!), and I shall necessarily come back to describe some of those in due course before I sit down, because I believe that you should be told at least something about them. But in coming to Oxford from the colder northern climes of Leeds, and in taking over the helm from David, I feel very much like the Master of Balliol recently said he felt when he came back to Oxford after some time away: "What I felt on coming back (to Oxford)", he said, "was a burst of optimism. OK, we've got our problems, but this is a terrific place. We have some really good people there is so much talent here [And] when it comes down to it, it's the people who matter most". [Thus far the Master of Balliol]. And I do so very much agree with those sentiments: the University's most important resource, I believe, is the people who work in it; and among the many things I would like to achieve as Librarian of this great University, perhaps the principal one, is to capitalise fully on all the 'personpower' - all the expertise and energy - available within Oxford; and I include in that reservoir of talent not just my Library colleagues, but also the many thousands of those who use the Library, and those who wish it well and who support it, as you do, in so many ways.

Sir Thomas Bodley himself spoke, as I'm sure you're aware, of the "very great store of honourable friends" which his far-sighted vision encompassed. And if I tell you that on my very first day in David Vaisey's chair I received notification of a legacy from the late Margaret Sowers of a sum of money representing more than ten years of my present salary, then you'll understand why I was overtaken by that "burst of optimism" of which Colin Lucas spoke! I can think of few more encouraging ways to start a new job! And to all those of you here who, together with Margaret Sowers and her late husband Roy, form such a notable part of Bodley's "honourable friends", I say without reserve or hesitation, on behalf of all my Library colleagues, that the help and constant support which we receive so generously from our friends - both with a small 'f' and a large one - is a genuine encouragement and a real stimulus to us in our work. So I offer you all, collectively, a very heartfelt 'thank you'

I feel very optimistic, for example, about the excellent Lottery bid which has recently gone forward on behalf of the University under the signature of the Vice-Chancellor. I take no credit for the bid, of course! "Other men (and, of course, some women, too!) have laboured", as the Good Book says; and I am very fortunate to be able to "enter into their labours"; and I look forward very much to being involved closely in all the detailed work which remains to be done once we get past the first stage- which we hope to do during the early Summer. I'm personally very grateful to you, Vice-Chancellor, for sponsoring the bid and for steering it successfully through the University's Committee system, and also to the University Surveyor's Office for its expert help and advice, in particular through the work of the two Deputy Surveyors who are here with us today. I'm happy, too, to pay tribute to all those of you who have already enabled us to raise over 1 million of the necessary partnership funding for the Lottery bid. The University itself, the Rhodes Trust, the Radcliffe Trust, the Friends of the Bodleian, and many of you on an individual basis, have contributed generously to this essential aspect of the bid, and we are immensely grateful for such remarkable collective generosity. But even if the bid should fail, I can tell you that I intend to go down in history as the Librarian who eradicated the death-watch beetle from Duke Humfrey's.

Now there's a claim to fame!

So what of the other challenges that face us in the coming year? Well, you will not be surprised, I think, to hear me say that funding is a constant concern - and especially recurrent funding: the kind that pays for the bread and butter operations that keep the Library functioning, and which underpins the services that our growing numbers of users rely on us to provide. The Bodleian, as you may know, has a substantial operating deficit at the present time; but we have been making strenuous efforts to tighten our belts, and the General Board of the University continues to be as generous as it possibly can in responding to the evidence of our genuine need. There are signs, for example, that the recurrent costs of the book service will be met, and the large ongoing expense of retrospectively converting our catalogues to machine-readable form appears to be well and truly safeguarded. We shall, of course, continue to rely on that kind of continuing sensitivity to the heavy call which the Library is certain to make on the University Chest - especially since, all the time, the cost of books and periodicals continues to inflate exponentially.

But that makes me all the more pleased to tell you that the Vaisey Endowment Fund, which was an idea developed by Jonathan Taylor's Bodleian Library Development Committee, and which was set up only towards the end of 1996 to provide a recurrent source of income for general purposes, is already past the three-quarters of a million pounds mark. And you will perhaps appreciate how very pleased I am to announce that David Vaisey himself has graciously agreed to act on a part-time basis as the spearhead of the Library's fund-raising activities, in respect of which we are currently devising an appropriate title which will reflect the importance of David's continuing role.

Jonathan Taylor's group, thankfully, will be continuing its valuable work on the Library's behalf, and I'm glad of this opportunity to thank the group publicly for all that they have achieved for the Library. We continue also to be deeply grateful for the work of the Friends of the Bodleian, who, under the expert chairmanship of Colin Matthew, have grown by around 400 members during the year. The Friends, of course, have been instrumental in sponsoring the splendid portrait of David Vaisey by the artist Paul Brason, whom we're delighted to welcome among us today. Together with Merton College, Sir Christopher Bland (the chairman of the BBC), and others, the Friends have also enabled us to obtain the literary papers and correspondence of Louis MacNeice; I'm delighted to announce, too, that this year the Friends will be in the luxurious position of dispensing the extraordinarily generous legacy of the late Miss Mary Lascelles, part of which has already been earmarked for the purchase of a splendid portrait of Mendelssohn, which will be revealed in all its refurbished glory during the Oxford Mendelssohn Festival in June. The Festival itself is part of the unstinting and imaginative fund-raising activities of Margaret Bullard and her events committee, and we are all greatly looking forward to the attendance of HRH the Prince of Wales, who is due to honour us with his presence at the splendid concert which will inaugurate the Festival on 19 June. And behind the scenes, quietly but efficiently, our Development officer, Alastair James, will be spurring us all on to greater efforts in support of the Library's needs.

There are, of course, very many other individuals and institutions who have helped the Bodleian during the course of the last twelve months, and I'm delighted that at least some of these are with us today, including representatives of Kawasaki Heavy Industries. Many of you, too, will be aware that thanks to the extraordinary generosity of Mr Lee Seng Tee of Singapore we are about to embark on the complete refurbishment of the Lower Reading Room of the Radcliffe Camera, which was recently renamed in Mr Lee's honour at a very pleasant ceremony hosted by the Vice-Chancellor and at which Mr Lee was represented by the Provost of Oriel - of which Mr Lee is an Honorary Fellow. I'm sure, too, that you would all want to join me in thanking the Rector and Fellows of Exeter College, for graciously allowing us to commemorate the Bodleian's Founder in these splendid surroundings. And last, but by no means least, the Library's warm thanks are due to Blackwell's - one of our most loyal and longstanding supporters - for their generosity in sponsoring, among other things, all the costs of this Founder's Luncheon today.

All of which prompts me to say that if an institution's health were ever to be measured by the quality and quantity of its supporters, then the Bodleian would be classed as being in very good shape indeed! And if, in this year of the Mendelssohn celebrations, I were to dare to liken myself to an Elisha, on whose shoulders the mantle of an Elijah has fallen, then I can only say that the many miracles that Elisha performed in ancient Israel will only be achieved by me in Oxford to the extent that I am able to rely and call upon the exceptional energy and support of such a large network of helpers. Both I and our Founder can count ourselves to be very fortunate indeed!

In conclusion, though, I thought you might expect me to say just a few words about my own reception as a new boy in such a stimulating environment. I had no doubt, when I accepted the honour of such a historic office, that I was coming to what is, without doubt, the best institution of higher education in the world - and I'm not just saying that because Oxford has beaten the "other place" (where I spent 6 happy years) into a cocked hat in the latest Research Assessment Exercise! I can tell you that in my first 75 days as Librarian here, my expectations and hopes have already been amply fulfilled. Notwithstanding the arctic weather conditions I encountered when I took up my office in January, and even allowing for the Thames Valley 'flu virus which almost immediately struck me down for a few very unpleasant days, the welcome which I have received in every quarter here has been of the warmest possible kind. Though it is perhaps not particularly appropriate for me to dwell, on this occasion at least, on my wider duties as Director of University Library Services, I'm happy to report that wherever my new responsibilities have taken me in the University Libraries sector, I have found a spirit of openness, of willingness to co-operate, and a very notable readiness to sign up to the larger 'corporate' agenda of integration that the University has asked me to develop. Dependent Libraries, Faculty Libraries, all the large former Libraries Board Libraries, and even, dare I whisper it (?), a number of College Libraries, have shown themselves keen to play their part in the larger enterprise of delivering together the best possible library services to their respective constituencies in this best of all possible academic environments.

Sir Thomas would, I believe, be very pleased with all the omens. And if there is still very much to do, and very many challenges still to be met, if there are changes to be made because of the changed environment in which we find ourselves as a new millennium approaches, then I'm confident that our Founder would consider us, as he was in his own day, well placed to move onwards, whilst still remaining true to his enduring principles - and especially in our continuing support for "the republic of the learned" - since that is what all academic libraries are all about. And all the time, I shall continue to hear the sage advice of the late F M Cornford, who counsels us all to enjoy "the best of all company - the company of clean and humorous intellect". For, says Cornford, "if you have a spark of imagination and try very hard to remember what it was like to be young, there is no reason why your brains should ever get woolly, or anyone should wish you out of the way".

Mr Vice-Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen, I am enormously grateful for the confidence which has been placed in me personally and, especially, for your continuing and invaluable support for the Bodleian Library as I and my Library colleagues strive to meet the challenges of the year ahead. With your help, I'm confident that we shall be able to perpetuate our Founder's exceptional generosity and vision.

Reg Carr
15 March 1997