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


Exeter College, 10 March 2001

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

I don't know about you, but I have never had much sympathy with Henry Ford's remark - made almost a hundred years ago - that "history is more or less bunk". I certainly find it hard to believe that there are people who could spend their professional lives in a place like Oxford without being touched by an acute sense of history. Wherever we go, and wherever we look, the buildings, the monuments, the portraits, the names, everything serves to remind us, in a very powerful way, that we are the temporary (and fortunate) custodians of a heritage that has been fashioned both by the hand of time and by the labours of generations of predecessors.

Of course, as Bodley's 23rd Librarian, in an unbroken line since 1600, I may be more than usually sensitive to my own historic responsibilities. And that sensitivity is no doubt heightened by the fact that the first thing I see on entering my office every day is a sombre portrait of Sir Thomas Bodley, who seems to fix me with his steady and meaningful gaze, and who appears to say: "What are you doing with my Library?" And I like to think that he's reasonably content with my imagined reply: "The very best I possibly can (Sir!)"…

But, of course, the greatest benefits we can derive from a clear (and not just a servile) sense of history are a better understanding of the present, and some really valuable insights for plotting our future course. And so, as we move inexorably towards next year's four-hundredth anniversary of the opening of the Bodleian Library, in November 1602, I'm happy to say that I feel quite confident that my library colleagues and I are shaping up creatively to remoulding the future shape of our historic legacy. (That's not to say, of course, that we don't face enormous challenges on virtually every front; and this past year has reminded us, with all its ups and downs, just how very demanding and frustrating it can be to carry forward, in such a fast-changing and demanding world, what is sometimes the burden of history. But today is not the time to speak of temporary setbacks!)

Two years ago at Founder's Lunch, I described Sir Thomas Bodley as a forward-looking innovator (which, in his time, he certainly was). He was also a man of energy and determination. And for this reason I firmly believe that we honour his memory best not by preserving his library in 17th-century aspic, but by reshaping and reinterpreting his vision for it as time moves on, and as new opportunities for making progress come along. So we have our own developing vision for the Library, too; and as that picture begins to take shape and get coloured in, it's my privilege to be able to share some of it with you, as the Library's 21st-century friends, and that's what I want to do in this address.

I find it fascinating to think that, this time 400 years ago, Sir Thomas Bodley - with the help of his hard-pressed librarian Thomas James - was putting the finishing touches to the revitalised infrastructure of his refurbished Library. Bodley's surviving correspondence shows that by 1601 most of the building works had been completed in the old Duke Humfrey's Library, and that the splendid new shelves were beginning to fill up through the generosity of the great and the good. Our own Bodleian Old Library Development project (BOLD) - on which we embarked just three years ago, and which will be completed this summer with the refurbishment of the Lower Reading Room - is our deliberate mirror-image of Sir Thomas's restoration of the more ancient 15th-century infrastructure, to which he brought his own visionary improvements.

So, what about our future plans for the Bodleian Library, and for the Oxford University Library Services within which the Bodleian now sits as part of an integrated library structure? Well, I can easily imagine that if the invitations for this year's Founder's Lunch had said explicitly that lunch would be followed by an address by Bodley's Librarian entitled Revitalising the infrastructure, some of you might well have found pressing reasons to stay away today; and others of you might have brought the indigestion tablets along, just in case!

Nevertheless, I am going to make the basic assumption that the very fact of your presence here means that you all have more than just a passing interest in the welfare of the Bodleian and of its sister libraries, and that you won't feel that I am taking too much advantage of a captive audience to share with you a sneak preview of our library planning horizons, as well as the usual expressions of thanks for all the help received during the past year.

I believe it was the Lord Buddha who said that "Roads are for journeys, not for destinations". And I suppose that, in a philosophical kind of way, there is a sense in which making progress is almost more important than actually arriving somewhere. But my own personal philosophy is of the more practical kind; and I agree much more with the down-to-earth Forrest Gump when he said (and I don't intend to mimic Tom Hanks's memorable Southern drawl!): "If you don't know where you're goin', you will probably not wind up there".

All of which homespun wisdom leads me to say that we do know where we're heading for, and we do intend to get there. It also brings me on neatly to my two main themes for today, since the road ahead for us is based on vision and on infrastructure.

Now you may think that vision and infrastructure are two unlikely bedfellows. But they were in fact both as firmly intertwined in Sir Thomas Bodley's plans for the 17th-century Library as they are integral to ours for the 21st. And the vision that we have for the Bodleian Library is firmly rooted in practical and achievable plans: it's clear; it's concrete; and it's worth every effort to realise. And, briefly described, it's this: by 2006, we see a Bodleian Library sitting right at the heart of an integrated library service which is much more efficient, much more accessible and much more technologically sophisticated, because its basic infrastructures will have been revitalised.

For us then - and it's very important that this should be clearly understood, for the avoidance of doubt - for us, this vision for the Bodleian is firmly planted both within the wider context of the integrated library system, and within the new planning regime resulting from the University's own newly-revised governance structure. As Director of University Library Services and Bodley's Librarian I have, like every Head of Department in the University, been asked to produce a five-year strategic plan. Not exactly rocket science, you might think - and you'd be right! But it's in that context that the conjunction of vision and infrastructural issues has revived the obvious historical comparisons with the work of the Bodleian's illustrious Founder. Our own present Vice-Chancellor has frequently gone on record to identify the University's infrastructure as one of its biggest challenges, right now, as well as in the future. Only recently, as some of you will know, Dr Lucas has referred in the Press to the public underfunding of the Humanities in the UK, and of its library infrastructure generally. Of course, the Bodleian Library, and the University Library Services within which it now sits, supports much more than just the Humanities; but the point about the infrastructure being systematically starved of investment is absolutely true, and it should be of major concern to us all.

So what can be done about it here in Oxford? Are we to shrug our shoulders, and say that we are simply going through a phase that will pass, and that, if we have patience, the good times (if they ever really existed!) will return of their own volition? Surely not! For if the spirit of Thomas Bodley teaches us anything, it must be that a fixed and coherent vision, combined with the determination and energy to see it through to realisation, is the only real antidote to inertia, neglect or decline.

And so it is that, in basing our vision for the Bodleian and the University Library Services on the clear need for infrastructural renewal, we are interpreting the word infrastructure according to its broadest dictionary definition. For, as the OED tells us, infrastructure is "the basic physical and organisational structures needed for the operation of an enterprise". And, seen in that wider sense, we have identified four different aspects of the libraries' infrastructure which need urgent attention - managerial, operational, physical and technical - and we are in the process of addressing each one of these as part of the achievement of our overall vision for the library system five or six years down the road.

The first element of the library infrastructure to receive attention, and necessarily so, has been the managerial aspect, addressed principally through the recent integration process. Intrinsically dull, but enormously demanding, it has taken us three years to reorganise the governance and management of the University's centrally-funded libraries on an integrated basis. But as a result of last year's formal integration, the University now possesses at its centre, for the first time in its long history, a library service which is at last capable of taking a system-wide overview of the key infrastructural challenges, and of responding coherently and effectively to them.

But formal integration is only the beginning: the vision requires us to drive its benefits down into the managerial infrastructure, in order to ensure that our staff can make the best possible use of the resources at our disposal - including, of course, our wonderful collections. The library service's financial transparency now needs to be enhanced; staff training and development must be continuously improved; an integrated approach needs to be taken to the management of library collections, with the aim of reducing unplanned duplication throughout the system, of making more materials more easily accessible, and with the ultimate goal of having "the right book in the right place at the right time"; and the work of appropriate staff needs to be reorganised with a much greater emphasis on the provision of subject-based services right across the sector. Preservation activity needs to be reorganised and expanded; IT systems development and support require rationalisation; personnel and other administrative support functions need to be streamlined; and fundraising and income-generation activities need to be further enhanced. And all of these developments will have as their ultimate aim the enhancement of the library staff's ability to deliver a more responsive and effective service, for the direct benefit of library users.

The second aspect of the library system's infrastructure which the integrated approach will enable us to overhaul systematically over the next few years is the operational (or service) infrastructure. The integration of so many libraries opens up the possibility of reorganising the delivery of many of the key public services which have tended, in Oxford, to develop along separate lines. A more coherent and planned approach will therefore be taken to system-wide library service issues such as: opening hours; admissions; reader instruction and training; inter-library loans and electronic document delivery; book delivery (where the introduction of an automated stack request system remains a high priority - in spite of the unfortunate temporary hitch just before Christmas); reprographics (including photocopying and on-demand digitisation); microform reading facilities; and access to electronic information resources. Integrated operational developments in all these areas will significantly improve the service levels experienced by library users generally, and, when they are in place, they will make some of our present services look positively ante-diluvian.

The delivery of many of these managerial and service enhancements, however, will depend crucially on a number of major changes in the library system's physical infrastructure. Accommodation-related issues and, especially, the ad hoc nature of library growth in Oxford, have represented the most significant single infrastructural constraint on library services in the past. They certainly constitute the biggest single obstacle to the realisation of our service enhancement vision for the future. For this reason we have given a great deal of attention to the formulation of a long-term accommodation strategy, the implementation of which is the key enabling element underpinning the vision of a new paradigm of library service.

And so our plans comprise a major programme of physical redevelopment and of new building spanning at least 5-6 years, at the end of which the integrated library system will be well positioned to deliver the radical service enhancements envisaged. The plans include: the creation of a major new library processing and preservation facility at Osney Mead; the radical refurbishment and redesign of the interior of the New Bodleian building (to bring it up to modern environmental and reader service standards); the continuation and acceleration of the off-campus repository programme, for long-term retention materials; and the provision of new buildings, extensions, or refurbishments to support enhanced library services for Law, Medicine, Modern Languages, Social Studies, the Sciences, and the Humanities generally. All of these are part of the vision, and will enable us ultimately to transform the standards of library service offered in Oxford.

The bulk of the funding required to implement this strategy will be provided by the planned Libraries Capital Campaign, which has recently been approved in outline by the University. Designed to raise £40M, the Campaign will be considered for formal approval by the University in Trinity Term 2001, and is due for public launch early in 2002. The success of the Campaign will be absolutely crucial to the realisation of our vision; and you will be hearing a great deal more about it in the Bodleian's quatercentenary year.

But while the implementation of the long-term accommodation strategy will form the necessary basis for the major enhancement of the physical infrastructure of the library system which we are planning, the systematic development of the libraries' technical infrastructure forms the final element in this vision of a radically transformed library service.

To this end, an e-strategy has been formulated as a vital component of the vision for the future. The strategy envisages the innovative exploitation of new and existing technologies to provide seamless and user-friendly access to the burgeoning range of electronic information which is increasingly being made available both within and beyond the Oxford library domain. With electronic information of every conceivable kind already forming a major component of our collections and services, the e-strategy will enable vast quantities of digital materials to become fully integrated, in both managerial and service terms, with access to the library service's more traditional world-class collections of printed and manuscript materials.

In specific developmental terms, the e-strategy will involve the following components, many of which are already in place, underway, or planned: the continuous upgrade, and eventual replacement, of the library service's principal automated system; the completion and upgrade of the on-line union catalogue of printed holdings and its further development in web-compliance; the expansion of access to electronic datasets and journals; the pervasive use of technology for access to manuscript and archival holdings information; the growth of the Oxford Digital Library (comprising locally-created digital content); the introduction of an on-demand digitisation service; the development of an electronic document delivery service; the routinisation of digital archiving facilities; and the building of a standards-based hybrid library user interface, capable of enabling easy search-and-retrieval access to all the electronic information and materials available within the library system and beyond.

Taken together, all of these component parts of the vision will transform the depth, range and quality of the library system's service array, and will provide the University, and the wider world of scholarship, with a hybrid library and information infrastructure second to none in the UK, and much more on a par with those of many of Oxford's international peers.

The vision is exciting, innovative and ambitious. But with the necessary energy, commitment and investment, both of staff effort and of resources, it is achievable. Above all, it represents a future which the University itself simply has to reach if it is to meet the rising expectations and information needs of its scholars and students and if it is to maintain and enhance its world-class status in teaching and research. This is the road on which we have now very firmly set our feet, and I invite you all to embrace this vision with us, and to help us achieve it in any way that you possibly can.

But, of course, as I look around the room, and as I look back over the year since we last assembled here, I gladly recognise that we have already been materially assisted along the road in very many practical ways. And so I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge publicly the debts of gratitude which we owe to so many of you. And I'd like to do this, as succinctly as I can, within the framework of the four different parts of the library infrastructure which we are aiming to enhance.

Overall, more than £1.7 million has been raised in one way or another for library development purposes since I last reported to you; and, if we were to take account of the monetary value of some extremely generous recent donations of research materials, we could probably multiply that figure by a factor of five or six.

In respect of staff and materials-related developments, we have been helped by the Avenue, Hilden and Deal Charitable Trusts, with their contributions towards the cataloguing costs of the Trevor Huddleston Papers. The Conservative Party Archive has been given further welcome support by Sir Geoffrey Leigh, by Frank Sharratt and by Lord Parkinson. We have received an anonymous pledge of £100,000 for the conservation of the Rawlinson Collection. And we have been most generously enabled, through the Michael Aris Trust for Tibetan and Himalayan Studies, not only to receive the late Michael Aris's Library, but also to establish both an academic-related library post in Tibetan and also a substantial library acquisitions fund. Further contributions are promised; and I am glad of this opportunity, once again, to say publicly to Michael Aris's twin brother Anthony how much we admire his zeal, and how greatly we value his efforts on behalf of his brother's memory.

Other major gifts of primary research materials have also been made during the year; and it is immensely gratifying to be able to mention them now. The Bonham Carter papers have come to us from the family through the good offices of Dr Michael Brock, as a result of which Prime Minister Asquith's personal correspondence now happily joins his political papers, which were transferred to the Bodleian from Balliol in 1964. The Bonham Carter gift also includes the diaries and papers of Asquith's daughter Lady Violet, who was herself politically active, and who was in fact the first woman to deliver our own Romanes Lecture. Immensely important, too, is the bequest by Mrs Marianne Steiner - the niece of Franz Kafka - of her share in the invaluable collection of Kafka manuscripts which were deposited in the Bodleian by Sir Malcolm Pasley in 1961. It was through the efforts of the late Mrs Steiner that this precious Nachlass survived and came to Oxford at all. Her son Michael and his wife are here with us today, and I'm delighted to be able to say in their presence how greatly indebted we are for this generous gift, and for their part in it.

And, as if all this were not cause enough for celebration, we have also been honoured to receive the vast archive of the late Sir Isaiah Berlin, donated by Lady Berlin and by Sir Isaiah's literary trustees. The papers illuminate every stage of Berlin's long and influential life, and we have no doubt at all that they will be worked on for generations to come as the documentary record of one of the intellectual giants of the 20th century. And, in view of the size of the archive, it is especially pleasing to report that, thanks to a substantial grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Board, we are able to recruit an archivist to arrange and catalogue this treasure-trove and to make it available for research at the earliest possible date. I should also mention at this point, too, that a timely grant from the Seven Pillars of Wisdom Trust has enabled us, at last, to catalogue the T.E. Lawrence papers and to make them publicly accessible.

And finally under this particular heading, I gladly acknowledge, as always, the steady and valued support of the Friends of the Bodleian, who have purchased, or contributed to the acquisition of, numerous important items for the Library during the year, and who have continued their generous support of the Library's boxing programme (that's 'boxing' of the preservation kind, of course, not the pugilistic!) The Friends' Chairman, the Warden of Merton, stands down at this year's AGM in June, and I take this opportunity to thank her for her characteristically incisive chairmanship during the last two years.

As far as our operational and service infrastructure is concerned, we have been supported in a number of very welcome ways. A total of almost £350,000 has been donated for unrestricted or endowment purposes, with the names of Mr and Mrs Bill Carson, Dame Alix Maynell, Professor Elliott, Professor Himuro, Mr R.P. Brims, and the ever-generous Rosemary Sprague being prominent among the donors, together with a number of Foundations, including the Eugen Friedlaender Foundation and the Jack and Pat Mallabar Foundation (through the good offices of Jonathan Stone). Three generous legacies were received, too: from the Margaret Sowers Trust, and from the estates of the late Ursula Casswell and of the late Mrs A. Stewart. Dr. Joseph Sassoon, a member of the Libraries Development Board, has also made a substantial unrestricted gift in the form of shares in Goldmann Sachs.

We are immensely grateful for all this financial assistance for unrestricted purposes, since it gives us maximum flexibility in supporting and developing our service infrastructure and in doing what we can to build up our all-important endowment income.

Support for specific operational activities has been given, too. Two other members of the Development Board, Nigel Lovett and Philip Keevil, have responded generously to the continuing need to build up a dedicated acquisitions fund for the new Vere Harmsworth Library of American Studies which is now rapidly nearing completion. ... The Rhodes Trust has continued to make important contributions to the new library, too, as well as to the Rhodes House Library itself, and we are very grateful for that support. The tantalisingly elusive desideratum of extended library opening hours has been helped yet again in the Bodleian Law Library by a further grant of £35,000 from Lovells, while other facilities and services there are being generously supported by Eversheds, the City Solicitors Educational Trust and by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, to all of whom we are genuinely grateful.

It would be good, of course, to be able to extend and develop this kind of commercial sponsorship in appropriate ways, and I can promise you that we are working on it. I'm very sorry that Mark Rowse, of Ingenta plc, could not be here today due to ill health; but Philip Blackwell is here; and I want you to hear me thank both Ingenta and Blackwells for the really beneficial help they are giving us. Ingenta is sponsoring this year's Pavilion Opera performance in July - so watch out for that one! - and Blackwell's gives us a wide variety of invaluable support, not the least of which is this Founder's Lunch. So perhaps at this point I should suggest a first toast: "To Blackwells, our near neighbours, and close friends!"

Then finally, I want to acknowledge the ways in which our physical and technical infrastructure are already being developed through various kinds of support from outside our core University funding. Dr Lee Seng Tee has made available a further welcome instalment of his substantial multi-year contribution to the Library's capital development; the final tranches of grant-funding for the BOLD project have been received from the Wolfson Foundation and from the Manifold Trust; the University itself has generously agreed to purchase the two buildings at Osney Mead on which a key element of the University Library Services' accommodation strategy crucially depends; our e-strategy has already been given a massive boost this year by contributions to our digital initiatives from both the Carl and Lilly Pforzheimer Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation - the latter with a grant of no less than three quarters of a million dollars. For that reason, among many others, it gives me great personal pleasure to see that the distinguished President of Mellon, Dr Bill Bowen, who has made such a major contribution to scholarly communications generally, and who gave us such a stimulating Romanes Lecture in October, is to be among our honorary graduands this coming June.

The revitalisation of our physical and technical infrastructure, of course, is still the major task which we face in the future; but I want, before I close, to acknowledge the extent to which the members of the Libraries Development Board are already making a major contribution to the support of that forward programme. In addition to their individual donations, the members of the Board are giving unselfishly of their time and personal expertise, on an entirely volunteer basis, to advise our fundraising efforts, to shape the Capital Campaign, and to promote the interests of Oxford's libraries in so many ways, both seen and unseen. And I can tell you, without fear of contradiction, that in Sir Robert Horton we are especially well-blessed with a committed and energetic Development Board Chairman; and I want you all to hear me say to him and to all his colleagues on the Board just how vital their support is to us, and how greatly it is valued and appreciated. And I can tell you this, too (which is more or less where I began today): that whatever Sir Thomas Bodley would have thought of me, I'm certain that he would approve of them! So, join me please, by way of conclusion to our assembly today, in raising your glasses to Sir Thomas Bodley and to all the members of the Libraries Development Board: "To friends ancient and modern!"

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

Reg Carr
10 March 2001