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


Exeter College, 13 March 1999

Mr Vice-Chancellor, my Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen:

This time last year, as those of you who remember being dentally challenged by the wild duck may perhaps recall, the theme of my Founder's Address was 'continuity and change'. This year, having recently returned from the United States where the word is all the rage, my theme is 'innovation'. Mind you, 'innovation' is not perhaps the word which springs immediately to the lips in connection with Oxford; and far better men than I - even some of those who have known Oxford well - have chosen to disparage what they have supposed to be an Oxonian preference for the ancient and the outmoded. No less an authority than the great Adam Smith once described this University as "a sanctuary in which exploded systems and obsolete prejudices find shelter and protection after they have been hunted out of every corner in the world"! And even the much-respected Matthew Arnold called Oxford "the home of lost causes, and forsaken beliefs, and unpopular names, and impossible loyalties". And yet, even allowing for the personal frustrations which may lie behind such negative aphorisms, I have to beg to differ with such eminent men. For I have found, in my two years in Oxford, that although the University's pre-eminence is deeply rooted in the critical mass of its historical achievements, it has an amazing ability - especially given its byzantine complexity - to assimilate the best of the modern world whilst carefully eschewing novelty for novelty's sake. And that, I believe, is one of the secrets of Oxford's longstanding success: innovation within the framework of abiding values and the highest standards. For Oxford, as James Joyce so curiously put it, is "where they make the best shirts"!

Seriously though, have you ever noticed what are the first words to greet you as you drift in slowly (oh, so slowly!) by train from the south, courtesy of Virgin Trains or a Thames Turbo (I hesitate to use the word 'express'!)? Surely you've seen them? Oxford Centre for Innovation, say the yard-high letters on a distant building. Or perhaps they say: Oxford: Centre for Innovation? And yet the words come with their own self-evident health warning, since those clarion letters look down grimly across a field of gravestones! All of which I take to be an eloquent confirmation that in Oxford we are what we are because we innovate with care and with a well-informed understanding of the pitfalls and the risks.

Now, of course, I can't speak for you all; and I don't know whether the Oxford you live in is the Matthew Arnold Oxford, or the Adam Smith Oxford, or whether it approximates to mine. But I can certainly tell you that the Bodleian Library is what it is today because it has been well served by innovators; and the Library has undoubtedly prospered most whenever it has been able to recreate itself by taking on board the contemporary elements of all that is new and best. Sir Thomas Bodley himself, our Founder, was undoubtedly a man of great forward vision - a man who, precisely because he was not content with the status quo, used all his energy, all his invention, and no small part of his considerable resources, to bring Duke Humfrey's ruined library to what Bodley described as "a state of singularitie".

And today (well, perhaps not at this very moment, since the workmen in Duke Humfrey's Library have downed tools because it's Saturday!) - just now, we are retracing Bodley's very steps 400 years down the corridor of time. In March 1599, Sir Thomas had already begun, as he put it, to bring "to some good passe the mechanicall workes apperteyning to the Library". And we, thanks to the generosity of our modern benefactors, are now already over half way through the first phase of our Old Library redevelopment project, which we have optimistically called the BOLD project, and in the context of which we are employing a range of leading specialists who are using the latest innovative conservation techniques, not simply to restore the oldest part of the Bodleian to a more respectable state, but to put it in a condition fit for the 21st century and worthy of its far-sighted founder. As many of you will know, we have (quite literally) raised the roof of Duke Humfrey's, in order to prevent the condensation so well loved by our resident death-watch beetles; the affected timbers are being given the most careful treatment; clever little light-boxes are being installed to eradicate the pregnant female beetles when they come out to lay; the painted ceiling-panels are being lovingly restored; a new, more adjustable, heating system is being installed; electrical and ethernet wiring is being brought to all the desks; and a mixture of ultraviolet and solar filters and blinds are being fitted to control the harmful light levels. All of which, as you all know, the Heritage Lottery Fund refused to help us with; but for which - in addition to those I mentioned at last year's luncheon - we are greatly indebted to the Rhodes Trust, the Pilgrim Trust, the Esmée Fairbairn Charitable Trust, the Michael Marks Charitable Trust, the Manifold Trust and, of course, (and I say this in the presence of the Vice-Chancellor) the University itself. And while all these specialist works are being expertly managed by Paul Spaven (of Tuffin, Ferraby and Taylor), I take this opportunity to praise the phenomenal success and industry of the Library's fundraising team, led by our Development Officer, Alastair James, and by my predecessor as Bodley's Librarian, David Vaisey. You can take it from me that innovation, imagination, and creativity are their watchwords; and I am certain that if Sir Thomas Bodley himself were here today, he too would "proceede", as he put it in his delightful Elizabethan English, "with those thankfull tokens of acceptaunce, as may bee somewhat correspondent to their singular desertes". We still have much work to do, and we still have much money to raise; but we simply cannot thank them enough….

Another great milestone has been reached, too, with the completion of the fundraising (almost a million pounds) for that other marvellously innovative project, the Bodleian Incunable Catalogue, which is being led so expertly by Dr Kristian Jensen. When it is eventually published by the University Press, the catalogue will contribute a great deal to the world's collective understanding of 15th century printing and book production. And for this, in addition to those donors mentioned last year, we have to thank the Samuel Kress Foundation, the Friends of the Bodleian, Helmut Friedlaender, Harvey Krueger and, as so often before, Lady Margaret Bullard. Significant personal donations to the project have also come from members of the Bodleian's Development Board - including gifts from Sir Robert Horton, from Nigel and Helen Lovett, and from Richard Youard. And I'm glad of this chance today to pay the warmest possible tribute to the Board as a whole, not just for 'leading from the front' with this kind of generous financial support, but also for their unstinting and expert help in so many ways. At the conclusion of my speech, the Vice-Chancellor will be honouring the Development Board's Chairman, Jonathan Taylor, for his outstanding record of service to the Bodleian; but I take this opportunity to record my own personal thanks to Jonathan and to all his wonderful colleagues on the Board. I never knew, before I came to Oxford, how many doors could be opened by a few dedicated and influential supporters! I can tell you that it's quite a task just keeping up with all the potential leads which they give us. As far as the Incunable Catalogue Project is concerned, too, I'm delighted that during this coming week, as well as in New York in April, I will have the pleasure of celebrating the completion of the funding of the project with many of those who have contributed to it, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Speaking of the other side of the Atlantic too, provides me with the cue to report briefly to you that the Bodleian has, within the past few months, become directly involved in the fundraising for the Library of the new Rothermere American Institute, soon to be built behind Rhodes House. All sorts of innovation is going on in that context, you can be sure; but you can imagine my delight at being able, today, to announce that Nigel Lovett, who has already put us so much in his debt for his work on the Bodleian Development Board, has very recently undertaken to donate, together with his wife Helen, a substantial sum for the purposes of the Vere Harmsworth Library; and we are confident that this kind of leadership will stimulate other American donors to follow suit.

North American help and innovation, too, lies at the heart of the important Digital Collections Scoping Study, which has been so generously funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, and which is due to produce its report this summer. The study, led by Dr Stuart Lee, will help to map out a future strategy for the development of Oxford's digital library collections in a phased and prioritised way, and will thus help the University to make many of its vast research resources available via the new technology to an ever-widening community of users.

Our pleasure at the prospect of the future outcomes from this Mellon-funded study is, however, tinged with much sadness at the news of the recent death of Paul Mellon, another member of that great charitable dynasty from which so many of our institutions have benefited so much over the years.

We have been very saddened, too, by the death last month of Lord David Eccles who, with his wife Lady Mary, has been such a good friend of the Bodleian over the years. And, if I might be permitted a short personal aside here, it gives me particular pause for thought to contemplate the fact that I first shook hands with Lord Eccles almost 43 years ago when, as Minister of Education under Macmillan in 1956, he presented me with a school prize in the Free Trade Hall in Manchester.......

Meanwhile, back here in Oxford, the Radcliffe Camera has begun at last to benefit from the great personal generosity of Dr Lee Seng Tee of Singapore. Dr Lee was with us recently to inspect the progress with the innovative restoration and refurbishment works currently being undertaken in the Lower Camera; and, in this connection, we record our great gratitude also to the Radcliffe Trust, which has made a most handsome grant towards these works in the much-loved building which bears the Trust's name in perpetuity.

Another name with which the Bodleian is delighted to be associated is that of Marks and Spencer; and I'm particularly happy to express the Library's thanks to M & S for making a major contribution towards the revival of their imaginative Conservation Internships Scheme. With their sponsorship, and with further contributions from Jonathan Taylor, from Jeremy Lancaster and from the Michael and Louisa von Clemm Foundation, we are once again able to offer high quality work-experience to talented young conservators at the start of their professional careers. The scheme, as you may well imagine, is highly valued, and the Bodleian is very pleased indeed to be involved in this way in the practical training of a group of professionals whose skills are the life-blood of a library like ours.

During 1998, too, the Library has been the grateful recipient of two significant grants from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation. One, mentioned last year, was to support the Incunable Catalogue Project; but the second more recent grant is to help develop the wider application of Information Technology in the recording and listing of the Library's very extensive collections of western manuscripts - a task which might almost be described as "the acme of innovation". Much more needs to be invested in this exciting area of activity, given the size and variety of the Bodleian's manuscript holdings; but through the conversion to machine-readable form of the Library's manual finding-aids, we can now at last begin to make real progress with our overall strategic aim to provide world-wide electronic access to our major manuscript collections.

Other forms of innovation and development are planned or in progress; and, for these, we are almost totally dependent on the wonderful support we receive from a gratifyingly long, and growing, list of donors and helpers of every kind. We have received generous legacies from a number of longstanding friends: from Margaret Boycott; from Simon Nowell-Smith; from the Prebendary Stark; from Lady Dalrymple-Champneys; from Miss A D Tucker; and from the Reverend Linskill. Two of these legacies have come through the Friends of the Bodleian, and I take this opportunity to thank the Friends for their continuing support throughout the year, as well as to pay tribute to the work both of the former Chairman, Professor Colin Matthew (who stood down as Chairman last June), and to the Friends' new Chairman, Dr Jessica Rawson, the Warden of Merton. The Friends' contributions to the Library come not simply in terms of funds sensitively applied to the Bodleian's developing needs, but also in the form of personal gifts of special materials, which greatly enrich the Library's stock. Two of the other legacies received are being added to the Vaisey Endowment Fund - which now stands close to £900,000; and, in addition to forming a lasting tribute to the outstanding service of my immediate predecessor, the Vaisey Fund is something we intend to continue to build on, as a means of providing a greater degree of long-term financial stability for the Library. And, of course, such endowment building is entirely consistent with our Founder's aims, who looked forward to the day when the Library would have what he described as "a sum sufficient.....for a competent surplusage besides to be kept still in store in [the] publique hutche or treasurie for such future purposes as may turne hereafter".

We intend to do whatever we can, therefore, not simply to stimulate the making of legacies for endowment purposes, but also more actively to work - while they are still alive - with those who are generous enough to name the Bodleian in their will; and we should like to do this along the lines of the arrangements in the New York Public Library, where those who have made the Library a beneficiary are invited into a special club, called the Bigolo Society. So please, if you want to know more about our plans in this regard, do get in touch!

Many other gifts, both major and minor, have been received since I last reported to you - from Rosemary Sprague; from Dr and Mrs Staton (to conserve the famous Kennicott Bible); from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and from Pearson plc (for the support of key Library posts); from Blackwell's (including the continuing sponsorship of this annual event); from Bill Carson; from William Roberts; from John D Price; from the Helen Roll Charity; from Dr Deanna Rudgard; from Simmons & Simmons; from the City Educational Trust; from Lincoln plc; from the Tolkien Trust; from OCLC (for the sponsorship of sweatshirts for the Bodleian's bookstack staff); from Lovell, White Durrant (for the weekend opening of the Bodleian Law Library); from the Tyson family; and from a whole host of individual donors by covenant. And lastly, but by no means least, we have been very generously helped by a number of Oxford Colleges, including Exeter, St John's, All Souls and Merton, Sir Thomas Bodley's own college. And, of course, it would be good to be able to add to that particular list. We always live in hope, says he, nodding in the direction of any Heads of other Houses present!

And behind all this charitable giving, which is so crucial to our efforts to innovate in the Bodleian and to support and develop its services proactively, I have to thank all the gallery of friends and supporters who give so freely of their time and effort to move the whole enterprise forward to even higher standards of excellence. Robert Merrick, for his continuing support of the Recording Centre for the Blind; the army of volunteer guides, for their loyal help with our visitor programmes; Shaw Kinsley, for arranging last year's Bodleian Event at the University Club in New York; Anne and Gavin Scott, for so much support behind the scenes (and we give Anne our special good wishes for her retirement later this year, together with our sincere thanks for many years of dedicated service to the Library); Dorothy Casey, who is also retiring this year after more than ten years in the University's Development Office, where she has made a significant contribution to the success of fundraising for the Bodleian; the University Surveyor's Office, in the person of Stafford Taylor and Vic Allison, who have been enormously helpful with the BOLD project and with our plans for a revamped Visitor Programme; and, of course, the indefatigable Lady Margaret Bullard, who even in retirement continues to raise funds for the Bodleian through concerts and events, assisted by her own team of hardworking volunteers. And I can think of no more appropriate way of bringing today's proceedings to an end than by sharing with you all the pleasure of witnessing the award to Lady Bullard and to Jonathan Taylor of the honour of Distinguished Friends of Oxford, in recognition of their outstanding records of generosity and service to the Bodleian.

But before I cede the microphone to the Vice-Chancellor for that happy purpose, there are just two more things I want to do. The first is by way of personal thanks, and the second is to read a couple of quotations which I think you might enjoy - even if you've heard them before.

My personal thanks, as you might expect, go to those colleagues with whom I'm privileged to work most closely: my Deputy John Tuck, who shares so much of the load, and who must sometimes wonder why he ever put his hand up for such a demanding job; the other members of the Directorate and of the Bodleian Senior Management Group, who must sometimes wish that David Vaisey had not decided to retire early; the superefficient Laurence Reynolds, the Assistant Secretary of the Libraries Committee, whose administrative skills are quite without compare in the whole of my working experience; and my many other colleagues in the libraries sector, whose patience must sometimes be sorely taxed with some of the suggestions for innovation I try out on them from time to time. But if innovation is the keyword of this speech, then my final word of thanks must go to the Principal of Linacre, Dr Paul Slack, and to his fellow members of the University Libraries Committee, which he chairs so expertly. For together, we share perhaps the biggest and certainly the hardest innovation challenge of all: to bring forward proposals for the creation of an integrated library service for the University. Not an easy task, I can tell you, but one which is immeasurably helped by the guidance and support which I receive so consistently. So thank you all, from me, for all you do to keep the innovation on track and Bodley's Librarian more or less sane!

But my parting shot consists of a couple of quotations which serve to remind us that, whatever may be the current buzzwords, whether they be 'innovation', 'lifelong learning' or 'social inclusion', the raison d'être of a library like this is tied up with values which never change: with the acquisition and sharing of knowledge, with the broadening of the mind, and with the pleasures of literacy. So no wonder that King James the 1st said, when contemplating Oxford and the Bodleian Library: "Were I not king, I would be a University man; and if it were that I must be a prisoner, if I might have my wish, I would have no other prison than this library, and be chained together with these good authors". Then there was Hilaire Belloc, who said, with untypical reverence: "There are few greater temptations on earth than to stay permanently at Oxford in meditation, and to read all the books in the Bodleian".

Our Founder, I am certain, would recognise that, implicit in such words, is a warm tribute to his own far-sightedness, to that innovative vision which, all these centuries later, makes us remember him with gratitude and admiration.

Ladies and gentlemen: I give you the toast - Sir Thomas Bodley!

Reg Carr
13 March 1999