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


Exeter College, 11 March 2000

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

Joseph Addison once suggested that Sundays serve to "clear away the rust of the whole week". By contrast, the Saturdays of Founder's Luncheon provide me with a welcome opportunity to celebrate and to savour the notable highlights of a whole year. And I take that opportunity now with a deep sense both of privilege and of gratitude. Privilege, because I am one of only 23 men since 1600 who have had charge of the Bodleian Library, standing as I do in an unbroken line of succession since Bodley's first Librarian, Dr Thomas James; and gratitude because, as I shall explain in this address, I have, like King Uzziah of Judah, been most "marvellously helped" this past year. And that is why it gives me very great pleasure indeed to see in this hall today so many of those who have helped both me and the Library in so very many ways over the last twelve months. And so I begin by thanking you all very much for coming to share this enjoyable occasion with me today…

Now those of you who are 'regulars' at this event will know that I usually try to organise my remarks around a single theme. Last year, my theme was 'innovation'; and two years ago it was 'continuity and change'. This year, I have nothing quite so coherent to offer; but when I look back over the last twelve months in the Library, I see them characterised and dominated by three things in particular: and they are access, progress, and people; and so I just want to share the last year's highlights with you under those three general themes.

Access, of course, is a very topical subject both in government policy and in the University world. In Oxford, we have a Working Party on Access, and I'm sure the Vice-Chancellor could speak volumes about the ways in which the University is trying to ensure that an Oxford education is open to all on the basis of ability, both now and in the future. But, in the library sector, 'access' has one or two connotations other than simply admission; and much of what we have been doing, and are planning to do, is geared towards enhancing our users' access - both physical and virtual - to the Library's collections and services, and in a variety of ways.

As far as physical access to the Bodleian is concerned, we are working hard to find ways to streamline our services, to enhance access to our collections, and generally to tackle the challenge of providing a 21st century library service in a collection of ancient monuments. And I'm pleased to say that we have made real inroads in at least four access-related areas in recent months. First, as you know, we have successfully completed the refurbishment of Duke Humfrey's Library; and that renovation itself is the first phase of the ongoing BOLD (or Bodleian Old Library Development) project. Completed last July, the extensive restoration work in Duke Humfrey's has recently been celebrated as part of the University's Millennium Buildings Project, with the placing of a time-capsule within the new roofspace of the Library. Happily, the work was finished on time and within budget, and that's quite an achievement with such a complex and specialised project! The stonework, the windows, the roof, the beams, the furniture, the painted ceiling panels, the environmental conditions (heating, ventilating and lighting) - just about everything in the place - has been given the careful attention which it deserved, and which was long overdue. And in the process, all the clutter has been cleared, all the desks have been wired for network access, and an elegant new service desk has been installed. This time last year, and also at the splendid Duke Humfrey celebration dinner on 7th October, I expressed the Library's warmest thanks to all those who contributed to making the restoration work possible (and the list was a very long one). Today, I have just one name to add to the list, and it's that of the Oxford Historic Buildings Fund, presided over by Sir John Habakkuk. Thanks to the generosity of the remaining Trustees of the Fund, and with the kind acquiescence of the colleges, a six-figure sum has come into the BOLD project as a contribution towards the stonework renovation costs; and we are, of course, deeply grateful for that timely help.

Access, too, lies very much at the heart of our efforts to improve the facilities of the Blind Recording Centre, which the Bodleian administers, as a University-wide service; and one could hardly think of a more obvious way to open up the world of libraries, and the knowledge they contain, than by enhancing the work which the Centre does to help the visually disadvantaged in their learning and research. We have been 'marvellously helped' in this by Railtrack plc, through the good offices of Sir Robert Horton, and also by Lincoln plc, thanks to the continuing support of Robert Merrick. But the Centre needs more space if it is to do its important work more effectively, and I'm absolutely delighted to announce that the University itself has very recently found a way to help us rehouse and expand the Centre more appropriately.

Physical access of a different kind lies at the heart of our proposals for a Visitor Programme, which we submitted last summer as an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund, for financial assistance with the start-up costs. One of our main aims with this project is to provide a 'quality experience' for the many hundreds of thousands of tourists who come to the Bodleian each year, but who, at present, because of the lack of managed facilities, cause problems of congestion and noise in the Library's public areas. The Bodleian, of course, is first and foremost a working library serving the needs of the University and of the wider scholarly community. But we also recognise our responsibility to share our priceless heritage with a larger public; and, in enabling improved visitor access to our buildings, we intend to provide all-comers with a greatly enhanced appreciation of the historical significance of the Library and of the University, as well as an understanding of the nature and value of the work that goes on here. We believe that our proposals for this project, which include a sound-guided tour, additional exhibition spaces, hands-on computerised access to our collections, and a remodelled shop and entrance area, will help us to achieve all this whilst at the same time enabling us to develop and improve the services and facilities for the readers. We are awaiting a 'stage one' decision on our application to the Heritage Lottery Fund, and this is due later this month. But in the meantime, we have already been gratified to receive two substantial contributions towards the partnership funding for the project, one from the ever-generous Garfield Weston Foundation and the other from a New York Foundation, through the good offices of Richard Menschel. And of course, once we get the green light from the HLF, we shall be redoubling our efforts to put the rest of the partnership funding into place. So please don't say that you haven't been warned!

But there's another aspect of the access issue that we're also addressing very vigorously just now, and that's the question of virtual, or electronic, access to our collections and services. In the brave new world of the 21st century, the value of a world-class library is no longer measured simply by the size of its holdings, nor even by the state of repair of its physical infrastructure, important though these things clearly are. In an age when electronic information is bringing rapid changes into the world of scholarly communication, a completely new paradigm of access is emerging in the world of libraries and archives generally, with information technology playing an increasingly central role. In this environment, the Bodleian, in common with most of the world's major research libraries, has begun actively to address the management of its collections - both physical and virtual - in new and exciting ways. While we do not in any sense subscribe to the theory of the death of the book, we are nevertheless planning to deliver very much greater levels of electronic access to our holdings over the coming years, with desktop electronic delivery of materials eventually becoming the primary access strategy for many of our users. While we envisage that Mohammed will still want to come physically to the mountain, as he does at present, we are beginning to put a range of services into place which will enable us to take the mountain to him, wherever and whenever Mohammed might want it - even if he will only get access to a digital surrogate of the mountain, and not the 'real thing', so to speak!

The spectacular growth of OLIS (our machine-readable union catalogue) in the last few years now means that anyone with access to an Internet connection anywhere in the world can gain round-the-clock information about the Bodleian's vast holdings, as well as those of more than 75 other libraries in the University. We are now almost on the point of linking the catalogue with an automated stack request system, which will enable authorised readers to order up materials stored in closed access simply by clicking on the catalogue entry. And I'm very pleased indeed to announce that the University will be funding this long-overdue development, which will save an enormous amount of academic and library staff time. This represents a giant stride for our stack service, bringing it up at last to the standard which our users have every right to expect.

We have also made a very promising start on the conversion to machine-readable form of the Library's many manuscript finding-aids, in order to enable accessible searching of our vast manuscript collections on the World Wide Web. As a matter of routine, too, more and more of our resources are being made available in digital form, including, increasingly, full-text materials and large numbers of electronic journals. In common with other institutions within the University, the Bodleian is converting many of its special holdings into digital form, including important manuscripts, rare books, and unique ephemera, with spin-off benefits for the long-term preservation of the originals. As an institution of legal deposit, we have a particular interest in the technical, economic and management issues surrounding the question of the digital archiving of electronic materials, since this is a set of issues which will come into even sharper focus for us if and when the existing UK legal deposit legislation is extended to include the long-term retention of electronic materials. For this reason, we have been delighted to receive substantial funding from the Higher Education Funding Councils to join with the libraries of the Universities of Cambridge and Leeds in a digital preservation demonstrator project under the umbrella of the Consortium of University Research Libraries (CURL).

Last year, I mentioned that the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation had generously funded a scoping study designed to help our digitisation activities proceed on a planned and effectively managed basis. That study, which reported last summer, has now provided us with a blueprint and an outline business plan for the strategic development of digital library services in Oxford; and in the autumn we were able, with the enthusiastic support of the Libraries Committee, to launch a major new initiative which is drawing financial support from a large six-figure grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England. No fewer than three major foundations are currently considering various forms of financial assistance for the initiative, too; and we are confident that, over time, these new developments will enable us to transform the accessibility of our incomparable collections of primary research materials. During the year, too, Oxford's libraries have been involved in the early design work for a Cultural Materials service being developed by RLG - the major consortium of the world's leading research institutions; and we envisage this service becoming one of the principal vehicles for the delivery of worldwide virtual access to our digital collections. It will be my pleasure to say more about all these developments at the University's North American Reunion, in New York, on April 1st, under the general heading of "The Digital Revolution: Changing Oxford". And I can assure you that I will have an exciting tale to tell to our North American alumni on that occasion.

So much, then, for today, about access, and on to my second mini-theme: progress. The closing year of the 20th century has been characterised by gratifying progress on a number of key fronts in the Library; and I want to pick out just a few of the highlights, under the three headings of integration, buildings, and funding. As far as integration is concerned, this has been a very good year - a year in which, at long last, we have found a manageable and acceptable way to get all the University's centrally funded libraries pointing in the same direction and working together more systematically than ever before in the overall interests of the users. February 22nd was, in fact, integration day - the day when Congregation formally approved the Libraries Committee's proposals for the reorganisation of the governance and management of all the libraries within the Committee's remit. It's taken a long time, of course, and a lot of hard work. In a sense, integration has been on its way ever since the Shackleton Report of the 1960s; but integration is now with us at last, and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the part played in this progress over so many years by the Nicholas Report, and by the reports of Sir Keith Thomas and of Sir Anthony Kenny, on whose work it has been a privilege to build. Once again, as so often in this historic environment, I have been keenly aware of entering into the labours of others. Of course, it would be wonderful to have reached the point where we could say, with Cicero, that our "completed labours are pleasant" (lucundi acti labores); but, as yet, an even greater challenge still lies ahead - and that's making integration actually work in practice: our labours are by no means over. But I sincerely hope that by this time next year our users will have begun to feel the difference; and I'm confident that, with the support of my library colleagues, all the changes we are making will be seen to have been worthwhile, and that the Bodleian, in common with all its sister libraries in the new system, will be immeasurably strengthened by all the hard work which is going on. And, even if it's invidious of me to do so, I want to single out the names of my Deputy, John Tuck, and of the Assistant Secretary of the Libraries Committee, Laurence Reynolds, as the people who have done most this last year to get us to where we are now. And I'm sure that Professor Paul Slack and his colleagues on the Libraries Committee, who have given us so much by way of support, will not demur from those well-deserved accolades.

And then, in addition to integration, the second sign that we are making progress has come in the shape of buildings. The new Economics Library in the St Cross building extension was opened during the year, notwithstanding the various threats and alarms encountered with it; and there is now the reassuring sight of the new Sackler Library, happily rising at last from the rubble behind Beaumont Street. And within the Bodleian Group, in addition to the Duke Humfrey renovation, we are beginning to anticipate the advent of the Vere Harmsworth Library, within the Rothermere American Institute, now taking physical shape on South Parks Road. The Institute was celebrated at a memorable reception at the American Embassy in May last year, and although there are still library funding needs to be met, we can look forward to a splendid new facility within the year.

There is, however, much more to be done in respect of library buildings generally, and it would be wrong of me to pretend otherwise. The BOLD project has still to be finished, the Upper Camera remains to be renovated, the New Bodleian bookstacks desperately need to undergo a major upgrade, after 60 years in which storage and safety standards have moved on dramatically while the Library has stood still. It was also an intense disappointment to us that the prospect of a much-needed off-site processing facility, at Ewert House in Summertown, did not materialise, since it would have enabled us to revitalise and to expand the reader service facilities on the central site. We remain hopeful, though, that an appropriate alternative to Ewert House will be found; and though there is a great deal to do on the buildings front, I'm very glad to be able to report that the case for a Libraries Capital Campaign appears to be being received sympathetically by the University's Development Office, with its new President Sir Anthony Kenny and its Director, Mike Smithson (like me, a refugee from that 'other place'!) It would also be appropriate for me at this point, I think, to acknowledge the tremendous support which Sir Robert Horton, as Chairman of the Bodleian Development Board in succession to Jonathan Taylor, has been giving, along with his colleagues, to this idea of a major campaign, to raise the many millions which we shall need as we approach the 400th anniversary of the opening of the Bodleian Library, in November 2002. I hope to be able to report a lot more progress on this particular front this time next year.

And that brings me neatly on to my third heading under progress: the all-important issue of funding. For although we are still wrestling with what we now euphemistically call the 'structural underfunding' of the Bodleian Library, this last year has been extraordinarily good in terms of the raising of external funds. I have already alluded to the major grant which Oxford's libraries have received from the Funding Council, under the Research Support Libraries Programme. At just over £800,000 per annum for each of the next three years, Oxford's share of the so-called 'compensation' funding, in recognition of the extent to which our libraries underpin the research activities of scholars from throughout the UK, is by far and away the largest sum awarded; and you may be certain that the funds will be well spent on key facilities and services. Under the project funding strand of the same RSLP initiative, too, the Oxford libraries system has been outstandingly successful in a wide range of bids, and the funding will enable us to address a number of major desiderata. A general mailing to the Bodleian's many donors under the Campaign for Oxford has yielded a six-figure sum also; and we are currently waiting with baited breath to receive a final cheque from California, which will represent the value of a part-share in an office building in Santa Cruz, which was left to the Bodleian by the late Margaret Sowers, who, along with her husband Roy, now features prominently on our marble benefactors panel. We have made pleasing progress, too, with our aim to increase the number of those who are generous enough to name the Library in their wills; and I take this opportunity to say to those of you in that particular category who are here today that this is one form of income that we hope to wait a long time to receive! Happily, too, the Vaisey Fund has been added to this year by several welcome benefactions - including a gift from Dr Holmes of a significant sum in memory of his wife (together with a similar amount for the benefit of the Radcliffe Science Library), and a further contribution from a generous American Friend, Rosemary Sprague. The Vaisey Fund has now almost reached its original target figure of £1 million, and is a most welcome step towards the increased endowment levels which the Library so desperately needs. All of which enables me to say that, in spite of its core operating shortfall, the Bodleian has now reached the position where it is dependent on central University funds for only 78% of its expenditure.

The third and final part of my address is about people. And if, as Napoleon is reputed to have said, "an army marches on its stomach", I believe it is even more true that a library - certainly any successful one - makes progress thanks to its people. And this last year has been unusually dominated by people whom we must mention for a whole variety of reasons. We have said farewell, sadly, to an exceptional number of remarkable individuals who have played a large part in the life and welfare of the Library. Kristian Jensen has moved on to the arguably greener pastures of the British Library. We can ill afford to lose an incunable expert of such stature; but Kristian has left us with the marvellous legacy of a fully-funded Incunable Catalogue project which is on track to make a really major impact when the catalogue is published in a couple of years' time. We have lost, through retirement, the outstanding services of Peter Leggate, our Keeper of Scientific Books, whose extraordinary contribution to the University, and to librarianship generally, has been second to none. We have lost, to my own college, Balliol, our extraordinary fundraiser, Alastair James, whose five years in the Bodleian were characterised by development successes of a truly remarkable kind. Lucky Balliol is all I can say about that particular Library loss! We have also 'lost' (in inverted commas, because he remains a member of the Development Board) the Chairman of the Board, the longserving Jonathan Taylor, whose record of service to the Library will take some beating. And I can tell you that at Jonathan's recent retirement dinner, both I and my predecessor David Vaisey ran out of superlatives in our speeches of thanks…

But saddest of all, by far, was the sudden, and cruel, loss of Professor Colin Matthew, whose early and unexpected death, in the full force of his powers, has robbed the Bodleian of one of its all-time greatest friends. A former Chairman of the Bodleian Friends, a longstanding Bodleian Curator, and an active and influential member of the Libraries Committee, Colin was one of that all-too-rare breed of academics whose scholarship does not appear to have suffered in the least from all the time and energy which he devoted to library matters. I take some comfort, at least, in knowing how very pleased Colin would have been, in this year when the Curators of the Bodleian have been finally abolished, that the Libraries Committee is to be known, with effect from October this year, as the Curators of the University Libraries. But, in the presence of Colin's wife, I can say that this is very small comfort when compared to the magnitude of his loss. The Bodleian will long honour Colin's memory. As Longfellow put it: "Dead he is not, but departed"….

Thankfully, it has not been a story of unmitigated loss. We have had arrivals too, and we have been heartily glad to welcome them. Dr Judith Palmer has replaced Peter Leggate as Keeper of Scientific Books; Sir Robert Horton has graciously succeeded Jonathan Taylor; and we are in the process of appointing a successor to Alastair James; and we look forward very much to working with them all.

We've also been delighted during the year to see a number of our friends do well. Dr Paul Slack, the Chairman of our Libraries Committee, not only became Professor Slack, but also added yet another string to his bow by being appointed, with effect from July this year, as the first Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Academic Services. We were delighted, too, when the admirable Laurence Reynolds was promoted to the newly-established post of Secretary to the Academic Services Group. And last, but by no means least, we shared in the overwhelming sense of pleasure at the recent news that a former external member of the Libraries Committee, Lynne Brindley, my own successor as Librarian at Leeds, had been appointed as Chief Executive of the British Library - the first woman to hold this important post, and, perhaps even more significantly, the first librarian. To paraphrase Richard Branson, in respect of all these appointments, many of us sense "the possibility of good times" to come…

And finally, as they say, my thanks, as ever, go to all you good people: to the Rector of Exeter, for permitting us once again to meet and to eat in these lovely surroundings; to Blackwells, for continuing to sponsor this event; and to all the friends, colleagues and well-wishers, who do so much to help me do my job and to support the Bodleian in its continuing efforts to be of service. To those who so generously contribute funds to the Library, or who help to raise them (including David Vaisey, Penny Sturgis, and those stalwarts of the Development Office, Emma Lyon and Carol Wheater): to all of you I offer my sincerest thanks on this particular day, when we honour the memory of our greatest benefactor of all: Sir Thomas Bodley.

Ladies and gentlemen: I give you the honourable toast: "Sir Thomas Bodley"! Thank you all very much…

Reg Carr
11 March 2000