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


Christ Church, 9 March 2002

Introducing the formal speeches after lunch, Bodley's Librarian, Dr Reg Carr, said:

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

It is a very special privilege for me, as Bodley's 23rd Librarian in an unbroken succession since Dr Thomas James, to welcome you all here to this historic event in Christ Church Hall as we share this Founder's lunch in celebration of the 400th anniversary year of the Bodleian Library. This is such a special occasion that we felt it was appropriate that, today, we should have not one speech, but three. So instead of the usual extended 'state of the Library' address from me, we are to have three short speeches - from the Vice-Chancellor, Dr Colin Lucas; from Sir Robert Horton, the Chairman of the Libraries Development Board; and from me, bringing up the rear with a rehearsal of an appropriately high-flown 17th-century tribute to Sir Thomas Bodley himself. It gives me very great pleasure, therefore, to invite the Vice-Chancellor and Sir Robert Horton to speak to us now.

The Vice-Chancellor, Dr Colin Lucas, said:

Let me begin by thanking the Dean for allowing us to be here in Christ Church to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Bodleian Library. Indeed, history is thus renewed since 100 hundred years ago it was in Christ Church that our predecessors lunched in similar celebration. At that lunch, there were 288 guests. They consumed nine courses from a menu written entirely in French, ninety-six bottles of champagne, forty-three bottles of fine old port, 300 cigarettes and 300 cigars. They drank six toasts and listened to eight speeches; and they caused breakages worth the cost of nearly seven lunches. Today's event is far more restrained - but, then, we are 100 years older.

It is no less an important event for being more sober. We are marking here the importance of the Bodleian Library and more especially of the whole library system to the University. It is of course a much bigger library now than it was a hundred years ago, providing much more diverse services to the academic community. It remains the heart of the scholarly research and teaching activity of the University. This is strongly symbolized by the Old Bodleian gathered round a quadrangle where the Latin names over the doorways indicate the old teaching schools, leading to the great Divinity School. Indeed, this quadrangle was built on the site of the earlier medieval schools.

To sit in the University's library reading rooms - from Duke Humfrey's to the Cairns Medical Library - is to hear the heartbeat of the University's scholarly and scientific life force. The libraries embody the University's core functions. We are stewards of accumulated knowledge; we add new knowledge, new meaning, new understanding to that accumulated knowledge; and we transmit those to each new generation that comes through here. Our libraries are a great storehouse of knowledge, a treasure trove for invention.

A storehouse must be kept in good order, in good condition. However, if it is only a storehouse it serves only a rather limited purpose. It must be accessible, it must be useable, it must be used. A book has life only in so much as a new mind is grazing across its leaves. The centuries of texts of every sort gathered over four hundred years from almost all places and times of written record provide the endless opportunity for dialogues between minds, just as they themselves are the product of such dialogues. The complex patterns of knowledge, which universities serve to secure and develop for human society, all derive at some point from that encounter. So, it is essential that we set ourselves now in Oxford to these two objectives of maintaining the libraries in excellent condition and enhancing their usability.

Sir Thomas Bodley refounded the University library at the time of a great educational revolution during the later sixteenth and earlier seventeenth centuries. Through his library, Oxford contributed to that educational revolution and to all the intellectual, social and political change of which it was one part. We are now in another great period of educational revolution around the world. We do not perhaps yet fully grasp its effects. However, knowledge in all the forms in which it is preserved and transmitted is as much the heart of this new revolution as it was of the movement to which Sir Thomas Bodley responded. So, too, therefore is the library. It follows that like Sir Thomas we must attend to its health, its maintenance, and its renewal.

Moreover, this is not just a library for Oxford. It is a great cultural asset for this nation and for the world, since our collections are drawn from all over the world. Those who worked with Sir Thomas Bodley and came after him set out to make it so and from the very beginning readers came from afar. One early reader in the seventeenth century, a Dutch Calvinist, complained of being treated by the staff as a "French dog", a potent mixture of religious and national slurs. Of course, in any library readers tend to complain: it is a symptom of the urgent pleasures of avid research. However, readers from abroad fare rather better now than he did, I think. Moreover, in the early years of Sir Thomas Bodley's library, non-Oxford readers had to hire an Oxford MA to supervise their use of the books. Currently, more than half our readers come from outside Oxford.

This extraordinary treasure is not now of course housed in what Sir Thomas described in a letter to one of my predecessors as "those ruinous little rooms". The demands of a modern, busy library do mean, however, that we must attend actively to its capacities and condition. It benefits already enormously year by year from the continuing generous support of donors and friends. What they do for us is remarkable. Their financial support has effects visible to passing eye and equally in many ways less immediately obvious but just as necessary. Their support is, further, testimony to affection and that too is a powerful effect, for libraries need to be cherished. So, I offer our friends our heartfelt thanks for their friendship and support.

More particularly, today I want to recognize the Libraries Development Board, under its chairman Sir Robert Horton. We owe them special thanks for their unstinting volunteer help, their energy, their enthusiasm, their get-up-and-go. It is wonderfully encouraging that you believe in the ongoing legacy of Sir Thomas Bodley as much as we do. The History of the University remarks at one point on "the massive increase of funds" that came into the University in the early seventeenth century and says that "this was largely due to the special endowments …. which flooded in following Sir Thomas Bodley's refoundation of the Library". Here in the early twenty-first century, we look forward to the time when, Sir Robert, you and your Board may be written up in a future volume of the History in similar terms.

Sir Robert Horton, Chairman of the Libraries Development Board, said:

The 400th anniversary of Sir Thomas Bodley's magnificent bequest, not simply to Oxford but to the world, demanded the speech you have heard from the Vice-Chancellor, and you will shortly hear from Bodley's Librarian. I am the sorbet, as it were, and I will be brief.

I want to explain why today is very special for the volunteers and what we hope to achieve, as the Libraries Development Board.

We are, by and large, not scholars and our backgrounds are diverse. Nonetheless we have jointly set ourselves a bold objective. We intend to honour Sir Thomas Bodley and the past, by ensuring, as best we are able, the finance desperately needed to secure the future of the University Libraries at Oxford. These libraries are world class, and they must remain so. We have no illusions about the very considerable challenge this represents.

We live in difficult times: so did Bodley. We face enormous changes brought about by the increase in the dissemination of information - scholarly or otherwise: so did Bodley. But, like him, we also live in a world in which confusion is best illuminated by informed debate and scholarship. The Ark of Knowledge which he saved, and which in 400 years has grown almost out of recognition, is not just worth preserving. It must be continuously augmented, both by modern methods and certainly by much better conditions. Not just electronic technology, important though everything with an 'e' in front of it now seems to be, but the entire working of the Library.

As with so many of our public institutions, we face the effects of years of under-investment. The worst of these have just, but only just, been kept at bay by the devoted servants of the Libraries past and present. If they need a monument it is that we retain some of the greatest collections in the world. But there is a limit to what they can do and our generation now has a heavy responsibility. For some this will of course continue to be discharged by devoted work in and for the libraries. For some, however, the responsibility is different. Some are members of the Oxford community. Some are simply visitors here. Some owe their education in part to this place. Some, like me, do not. All of us are, however, united in our determination to help an institution which must be as honoured in 100 years as it is today.

We are embarking, therefore, on an ambitious campaign. It is to raise no less than £50 million to help the Bodleian and the Oxford University Libraries to be fit for purpose for at least some decades to come. This is a most testing target, to say the least. And it is certainly not the end. We hope that roughly one third of the sum will come from the International Campaign which will be kicked off in New York later this year. The remaining two thirds will be raised here and elsewhere. Thanks in considerable part to the generosity of the University we have made a good start.

So I commend the Campaign to you with enthusiasm and with the conviction that we can get there. Thomas Bodley gave a priceless asset to this University and to the world. I hope that you will be able to come to some of the many events in the coming year to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the benefaction of the Founder. And in honouring the past, I know you will also want to help build the future.

Bodley's Librarian concluded the proceedings by reading, in praise of Sir Thomas Bodley, the text of the Publisher's Preface to The Life of Sir Thomas Bodley, the Honourable Founder of the Publique Library in the University of Oxford (1647):

"When the great restorer of learning, our munificent benefactor, Sir Thomas Bodley, made the happy exchange of the troubles of this life with the glories of the better, the University, according to the greatness of his merits, and their loss, in solemn grief and sadness attended at his obsequies.

"But lest the uncharitable censure of the world should apprehend our thankfulness buried in the same grave with him, and cold as his dead ashes, in that we pay no after tribute to so engaging a desert, we bring to the altar of eternity that part of him which yet, and ever, must survive: a monument freed from the laws of time and ruin, supported with the vigour of that name which hath a seminal strength within itself, to make whole volumes live.

"But lest the judging and severer eye, viewing the nakedness of this relation, may thence despise the poorness of our endeavour: that I may speak the work above all scorn, above all praise - it was his own. Nor durst we call that draught in question which felt the hand of so exact a master; but with awe look on it, as on the fabric of an ancient Temple, where the ruin furthers our devotion, and gaudy ornaments do but profane the sad religion of the place.

"Tis true, it savours not the language of our age, that hath the art to murder with a smile and fold a curse within a prayer; but speaks the rhetoric of that better world, where virtue was the garb, and truth the complement. Those actions are of low and empty worth that can shine only when the varnish of our words doth gild them over. The true diamond sparkles in its rock, and in despite of darkness makes a day.

"Here then [in The Life of Sir Thomas Bodley] you shall behold actions with the same integrity set down as they were first performed. A history described as it was lived. A counsellor that admitted, still, religion to the cabinet, and in his active aims had a design on heaven. A spirit of that height, that happiness, as in a private fortune to out-do the famed magnificence of mighty princes, whilst his single work clouds the proud fame of the Egyptian Library, and shames the tedious growth of the wealthy Vatican.

"I know how hard a task 'twill be to persuade any to copy out from this fair pattern. However, we cannot yet so far despair of ingenuity as not to expect even from the unconcerned…..a clear esteem and just resentment of it. If we gain but this, we shall in part rest satisfied. In an age so wholly lost to vice, conceiving it a great degree of virtue to confess the lustre of that good which our perverse endeavours still avoid."

Mr Vice-Chancellor, my Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask you to stand and raise your glasses in pious memory of our Founder, Sir Thomas Bodley:

In piam memoriam fundatoris nostri

9 March 2002