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

Address to the Friends of the Bodleian

21 June 2001

Mr Vice-Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It's my pleasing task to propose a vote of thanks to our distinguished speaker and then to give you a summary report on Bodleian Library business since our last AGM.

Let me then, first of all, express our sincere thanks to Professor Carey for his elegant and fascinating address, based on his extensive experience as an anthologiser. The writer and critic Walter Raleigh (not the 16th-century explorer of the same name) once described an anthology as "all the plums and orange peel picked out of a cake", and I'm sure we all agree that what we've enjoyed today are some of the really best bits of Professor Carey's anthologising know-how. It may be, to misquote the Preacher in Ecclesiastes, that "of the making of many books there is no end, and much anthologising is a weariness of the flesh"; but our speaker today has certainly not wearied us at all. Instead, he has brought all the skills and finesse of the accomplished literary critic to the task of sharing his insights into the art of the compiler.

Earlier centuries may have referred to anthologies as miscellanies, but that outdated term, with its rather looser overtones of motley serendipity, is clearly unworthy of the more rigorous and scholarly selectivity of the carefully edited anthologies which our speaker has described to us so eloquently; and I, for one, will now always use anthologies with much greater understanding and respect as a result of what we have heard today.

Professor Carey, you have both informed and entertained us greatly, and we salute and thank you for it most warmly.

The second part of my task is a report on Bodleian Library matters during the past year. And, in respect of this, I will not hide from the Friends, even if I thought I could, that the Library is passing through a very mixed period in its fortunes. The year has been, to borrow the famous phrase from Dickens, both "the best of times and the worst of times".

On the down side, the Library has been struggling to accommodate itself to a long-term recurrent funding deficit of over half a million pounds. Like every department in the University, too, the Bodleian has had to cope this past year with a 4.1% reduction in its baseline funding; and this combined squeeze on Library resources has made it very hard to shield our services (and our users) from tangible effects. Staff posts have been subjected to savings wherever possible, acquisitions budgets have been cut, fewer items have been bound or conserved, and the purchase of necessary equipment has been deferred; and all this at a time when our costs have continued to increase at a rate above general inflation, and when our usage levels, and the demands on our services generally, are rising also. Small wonder, then, that staff morale has not been high, to put it mildly. Nor is it surprising that there was widespread concern when it became known that the Libraries' Curators were having to consider reducing Library opening hours - though this unpalatable step was averted thanks to supplementary funding from a non-central source

There were also a number of real setbacks to some of our plans for development. The long-awaited automated stack request system, by which the late Chairman of the Friends, Professor Colin Matthew, set such personal store, failed miserably on its first implementation in December last, to general consternation and frustration. The introduction of self-service photocopying in the Library was initially plagued with machine problems, and did not command universal approval. The long-envisaged removal of the post-1920 guardbook volumes from the Lower Reading Room was not without its critics. And, of course, earlier this year, high-profile public opposition began to dog the Library's plans to introduce a Visitor Programme, notwithstanding the scheme's laudable aims to improve facilities for both readers and tourist visitors, and to generate some modest income. More recently, too, some hard words have been said in public about the radical step, approved by the Library's Curators and the University authorities, of moving a number of Library departments to a new facility at Osney Mead, in order to provide necessary expansion space off the central site for key Library support operations and also to free up central space for enhanced services for readers.

Significant changes such as these are never easy to implement, in any circumstances, even when, as here, they are long-overdue and critically-needed. But they are proving particularly difficult to introduce in Oxford, and especially at a time of retrenchment, when the necessary patience and understanding are, sadly, at a real premium.

I hope to be able to report more positively on these issues this time next year, of course; but it will require extraordinary effort and commitment on the part of very many of us if we are to come through to the calmer waters and happier days which we all long to see. Meanwhile, I would simply ask you not to believe, unquestioningly, everything adverse that you may read about the Library, either in the Oxford Magazine, or in the media generally. I hope that, as the Library's Friends, you will understand that there is usually another side to the story.

But I implied earlier that there were good things about the year to report on also, and I want now to make reference to some of the things that are sustaining us through the present difficulties.

The ambitious renovation scheme for the Old Bodleian buildings which we began three years ago, as a conscious mirroring of Sir Thomas Bodley's own great building programme, has continued with conspicuous success. The Lower Radcliffe Camera works and those in the Upper Reading Room have been completed, and we have just embarked on the final phase of the refurbishment, in the Old Bodleian's Lower Reading Room. I take this opportunity to pay tribute, in particular, to the extraordinary devotion which the Library's Head of Conservation, Michael Turner, has put into the whole of this complex renovation scheme over the last few years. Michael is due to retire this autumn, and it is hard to express adequately how much we owe to him for all that he has done for the Library over his very long career in Oxford. It is, I believe, not inappropriate to borrow Winston Churchill's phrase about Rupert Brooke and to apply it to Michael Turner; for, truly, "we shall not see his like again".

We have also recently celebrated the opening of the splendid state-of-the-art Vere Harmsworth Library of American Studies, in the Rothermere American Institute. The opening of the building, at a ceremony graced by ex-President Clinton, was one of those occasions which makes all the years of planning and hard work - and all the worries attendant on schemes of such magnitude - really worthwhile. And, even if the rumour-mill has been over-active again regarding the possible effects of the new library on the nature and extent of the existing library facilities at Rhodes House, I would invite you once more not to jump to any hasty conclusions. Instead, I simply want you to know that the Library's Curators and the Trustees of Rhodes House are quite close to an understanding on this issue which, when it is finally reached, should safeguard both the Trust's and the Library's combined support for Commonwealth Studies.

All sorts of pleasing developments have also happened in the last year as a result of benefactions and fundraising. The Library's collections of research materials - in many ways the Library's lifeblood - have been immensely enriched by some truly exceptional gifts. An anonymous donation of £100,000 has been received to enable us to conserve the important Rawlinson Collection. Prime Minister Asquith's personal correspondence has joined his political papers, already here. One third of Franz Kafka's important literary Nachlass has been gifted to us by the late Mrs Marianne Steiner; and Sir Isaiah Berlin's vast archive has been donated by his widow, supported by a major cataloguing grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Board. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation and the Getty Trust have all contributed sizeable sums to enable the Library to digitize more of its treasures for wider scholarly access and to extend the use of computers in the cataloguing of important manuscript collections. And, of course, as always, the Council of the Friends of the Bodleian has given magnificent support in respect of key accessions of rare books and manuscripts, as well as to the ongoing programme of acid-free boxing of our most vulnerable materials. Altogether, and over and above the value of all the donated materials, we calculate that a sum of almost two million pounds has been contributed by donors of every kind during the year. And it is this kind of generosity that makes us all the more determined to ensure that the Library's services and infrastructure are enabled to keep pace with the amazing quality of our research collections.

It is for this reason in particular - because we simply cannot allow the Library's accommodation and services to fall unacceptably below the standards required for the care and exploitation of our world-class collections (including all the legal deposit material which continues to pour in ever-increasing quantities through the Library's back door) - that we are setting such store by the launch, next year, of a Capital Campaign, with a target over a five year period of 40 million pounds. The success of the Campaign, timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the opening of the Bodleian Library in 1602, will be absolutely crucial to the future wellbeing of the Bodleian, as well as of other libraries now forming part of the integrated University Library Services.

And so it's pleasing to be able to report that the Campaign, approved in outline by the University's Planning and Resource Allocation Committee, now forms an integral part of the fundraising portfolio of the University's Development Office. Strongly supported by the Library's Curators, and underpinning a formally approved long-term library accommodation strategy, the detailed plans for the Campaign have been greatly assisted by the Libraries' own Development Board - a group of influential volunteers who have given of their own time, effort, and resources to set the example to what we hope will be a very large number of future Campaign supporters. And, of course, we trust that the aims of the Campaign will commend themselves to you also, as the Library's most loyal Friends (with a capital F)!

Next year being the quatercentenary year of the Bodleian Library, we are now in the final stages of the detailed planning for a year of celebrations which we hope will be worthy of such a great landmark in the Library's long history. The year-long programme of activities will include a gala fundraising dinner in New York in November 2002, and this on its own is set to raise a million dollars for the Campaign. But there will be a great deal going on in Oxford itself, also, and we shall be issuing a full programme of the events in the not-too-distant future. We very much hope that you will want to put many of the dates in your diaries for 2002, and that you will join in the celebrations with us as much as you possibly can.

So it is with you, the Bodleian's Friends, that I want to conclude my remarks today. And there are two of you in particular that I want to mention now, against the background of a very sincere expression of thanks to you all for your continuing support as paid-up Friends. .

Today, as you know, sees the hand-over of the Chairman's baton; and I gladly take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the outgoing Chairman, the Warden of Merton. Jessica Rawson, as you may imagine, is a very busy woman, and is in great demand for her committee skills, her incisive analytical powers, and her wide experience of cultural and educational matters. The members of the Council of the Friends - your Council - know best just how extraordinarily well the Friends have been served by Dr Rawson since the untimely death of Colin Matthew. She steps down with the Friends' funds in good shape, and with a record of marvellous support for the Library behind her. She deserves our deepest gratitude for the time and energy she has devoted to our cause, and I hope that you will want to show your appreciation in the time-honoured way. Jessica: thank you very much indeed, on behalf both of the Friends and of the Library itself, for all that you have done for us.

But, as we say goodbye and thank you to one Chairman, we can announce and welcome a successor: Professor Jon Stallworthy. A long-serving member of the Friends' Council, Professor Stallworthy is no stranger to you all, having been a speaker at our AGM just a couple of years ago. He was unanimously elected by the Council to succeed the Warden of Merton, and I am delighted to be able to welcome him to the Chair, and I look forward to working with him in that capacity over the coming years. Jon: thank you very much for being willing to take us on, and at such a challenging time. Your help and support will be much appreciated!

Mr Vice-Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen, that concludes the remarks of Bodley's Librarian for today. Thank you all very much for being here, and for listening to me so patiently…

Reg Carr
21 June 2001