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

Address to the Friends of the Bodleian

20 June 2002

Mr Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I'm very glad of the opportunity to propose a vote of thanks to my distinguished predecessor and to give you a brief report on the Library since we last assembled in this way.

It is a special pleasure for me to thank David Vaisey, CBE, and Bodley's only Librarian Emeritus, for his sparkling address about the business of running this great institution during its long history. In our 400th anniversary year, no-one is better placed to regale us with such well-chosen insights into the working lives of Bodley's Librarians past than such a widely respected holder of the post; and I thank him most heartily for his entertaining and fascinating account.

Being Bodley's Librarian is, of course, a huge privilege; but the post has also been variously described as 'the toughest job in the University', 'a bed of nails', and even 'a poisoned chalice'. But, if it is all of those things at times, the fact remains that it is also the best job in the world of academic librarianship; and, whatever the difficulties and challenges it sometimes presents, it is also deeply satisfying and endlessly rewarding. And I know I speak for David himself when I say that neither of us would wish to swap it for anything else, even if we cannot be sure that our predecessors would be entirely comfortable with the particular challenges which both David and I have had to face at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. But with appropriate modesty today, we'll gloss over most of that, and leave it for our memoirs, letting our successors ponder over how well (or otherwise) we coped with 'the Library business' during our periods of office.

But, if David and I are content to leave such judgements to those who may follow us, I'm sure that I speak for everybody here today when I say that we've enjoyed a real treat from at least one Bodley's Librarian who fully deserves our great respect, and our most sincere thanks. So, David: thank you very much indeed for such a masterly talk to us today...

Let me turn, then, to my report about the Library's more recent history. Your Chairman, rightly, has set a very positive tone with his account of the year's business for the Council of the Friends. And, lest I should be thought to take his work, and yours, on the Library's behalf, for granted, let me say at once how deeply grateful I and my Library colleagues really are for the marvellous support which the Friends, and the Friends Council, have given us this year. As Professor Stallworthy has said, our quatercentenary year has been exceptionally well-marked by some truly outstanding acquisitions of primary research materials. And that, after all, is what this great library is principally all about. The steady stream of special materials which comes to the Library through the generosity of you, our Friends, has been wonderfully enriched this year with the great trio of important manuscript treasures which Professor Stallworthy has described; and I simply cannot thank you all enough for making it possible for us to strengthen our research collections so remarkably in this very special year. The spirit of our revered Founder is obviously still very much 'alive and well' at this key juncture in our history. On behalf of the Library, therefore, I offer you all the very warmest thanks for your encouragement and for your material help. You have helped to make a special year very special indeed...

And I hardly need to remind an audience such as this how very much the greatness of the Bodleian has been built on this kind of private generosity and good will. The successful conclusion of the ambitious refurbishment programme for the Old Bodleian buildings could not have been reached this year without the generous support of a very wide circle of 'friends' - in the fullest sense of that word. We could not have persuaded the University to allow us to launch an even more ambitious £40m fundraising campaign for further capital developments without some realistic degree of assurance about our likely success; and that sense of assurance comes entirely from our ability to demonstrate such a wide community of support, and a solid track record of generosity towards the Library in the past. If our development plans for the future are indeed very ambitious - which they certainly are - it is only because people like you have consistently shown that you recognise the importance of 'the Bodleian enterprise'. And it gives me special pleasure to report that our confidence in what Sir Thomas Bodley called 'other men's benevolence' is already beginning to be signally rewarded. But, much more of that next year, I trust.

Enough to say, perhaps, that our fundraising efforts on behalf of the Library are being expertly and energetically assisted by our new Development Officer, Hannah Lemon, who joined us from Aberdeen some six months or so ago, and by the sterling work of our volunteer Development Board, so strongly steered by the muscular commitment of its Chairman, Sir Robert Horton. I take this opportunity, too, to acknowledge the ready willingness of your own Chairman to become directly involved with the work of the Development Board.

As you may have noticed, too, we are fast running out of space on the Library's splendid Panel of Benefactors, and we are already thinking about where and how to erect its successor. Needless to say, we are hoping to be able to add many new names to it as quickly as we possibly can! So, as they say, 'just watch this space'!

It was, however, with a sense of disappointment, tinged with realism, that the Library's governing body, at the back end of the last calendar year, finally abandoned its plans to introduce a Visitor Programme which would have involved cutting a new doorway under the Great Gate archway. But, happily, that sense of disappointment, combined with an understanding acceptance of the depth of opposition to the new doorway, has been almost entirely replaced by the optimism of the Library's 400th anniversary. The year's programme of celebratory events and activities opened, appropriately, with a splendid commemorative exhibition on Sir Thomas Bodley himself; and the final day of that first exhibition, which coincided with the Library's Open Day on the Saturday of the recent Jubilee weekend, saw this fitting tribute to our Founder featuring as the centrepiece of a thoroughly enjoyable and successful day, in which we had nearly 5,000 grateful and interested visitors through the doors.

Many of the Library's visitors, of course, like so many of its users, and even more of its Friends, are North Americans; and we continue to look to, and to be indebted towards, the typically open-hearted interest and generosity of our transatlantic cousins. For that reason, and because of our special fellow-feeling towards a nation under attack, we sent a message of sympathy to the North American Friends of the Bodleian in the wake of the terrorist outrage of '9/11'. And I'm happy to report that, notwithstanding the consequent downturn in the American economy, we continue to receive strong support from that particular quarter. The University's North American Alumni Reunion in March in New York proved to be a particularly encouraging occasion for us, with over $2 million being pledged to the Capital Campaign as a result of the discussions that were concluded over that memorable weekend, which was greatly enlivened by an unannounced appearance by former President Clinton. And I'm also very pleased to report that the tables for our New York Gala Dinner in October this year are selling well, and that flying the Bodleian flag in this way over Manhattan looks likely to net the Library the best part of a further million dollars.

Mention of 'the Bodleian flag', too, reminds me not to forget to acknowledge our debt to the distinguished designer David Gentleman, who has so skilfully redesigned his original Bodleian Library symbol especially for this quatercentenary year, with the date '1602' placed between two celebratory red flags, flying above the familiar version of the John Bereblock drawing of the Divinity School. As you may have noticed in the Shop, the 2002 logo is very much in evidence on a tasteful range of merchandise, and it's all helping us to share the Library's special birthday more widely, while swelling the coffers too! I do hope you'll all make sure that you don't let the year pass without choosing one or other of the fine mementos which are available. (End of commercial!)

The final section of my remarks, in reviewing the last twelve months, is, as usual, about some of the very many people who have contributed to the Library's work, and which it is my pleasure to acknowledge now. If it's somewhat invidious to be selective in this, as I must, I will mention just a few names, while recognising the huge debt which the Library owes also to the loyal service and support of a very much larger number. For, if collections and financial resources are the lifeblood of a great institution like this, then people are undoubtedly its heartbeat. I have already thanked you all for your continuing support for the Library, and have paid tribute to your Chairman and your Council for their crucial assistance. I have also offered our combined respect and gratitude to David Vaisey for his help today. But, much more than this, I want to thank David publicly, too, for the very many ways in which he has continued his work for the Library, long after his retirement; and I take this opportunity to thank him in particular for his willingness, as part of the Capital Campaign, to work closely with Jonathan Taylor in the establishment of a new 'Legacy Circle' which, if it is successful, will doubtless benefit the Library for many years to come. I'm sure you will be hearing more about this initiative in due course; but there could hardly be a more appropriate way, in this anniversary year, of seeking to provide the Library with a firm platform on which to build a more secure future.

This time last year, too, I acknowledged the massive contribution which Michael Turner made during his long years of devoted service to the Library. Michael finally retired last autumn, and, while his baton is being temporarily but effectively held by his Deputy, Lucy Blaxland, I'm pleased to announce that Michael will be succeeded on a more permanent basis by Chris Woods, who will be coming to us in August after a distinguished career with the Dorset County Records and Archives Service.

But two other long-serving senior members of the Bodleian staff have also retired during the year, and I believe it is appropriate for me to mention them now, as I bring my remarks towards a conclusion. Joanna Dodsworth served the Library faithfully and imaginatively for 22 years as its Publications Officer. But Joanna's title gives only an inadequate impression of the range, let alone the quality, of her work. Above all, perhaps, Joanna was the presiding genius of the Bodleian Shop, and it's gratifying to note that the Shop continues as a monument to the very high standards of a much-respected and expert member of staff. Mary Sheldon-Williams retired too during the year, after 32 years of loyal and unassuming service as an Assistant Librarian in the Reader Services Department. As the Library's Classics specialist for three decades, Mary set an exceptionally high standard of reader-oriented service in a popular and busy part of the Library. She is much missed by readers and Library colleagues alike.

'Much missed' is also a term which very many of us will undoubtedly be using about my own Deputy, John Tuck, when he leaves Oxford in October, to take up a new post of Head of British Collections in the British Library. No-one, I think, will miss John Tuck more than me, and I will have other occasions than this, before he leaves, to put on fuller record the enormous debt which is owed to him for all he has achieved here in the last 4½ years. But, in keeping with the theme of David Vaisey's address to us today, I have no doubt at all that history will recognise that few, if any, Deputy Bodley's Librarians have been more 'overtravailed with the Library business' than John Tuck, and I cannot conceive of any of them having shouldered the burden more effectively than he has. It is an understatement of monumental proportions for me to say simply that John will be 'a very hard act to follow'.

To John, and to all my colleagues in the Library, I say a very sincere 'thank you' for all that they have done - and continue to do - to keep the Library, in all its parts, in a fit and healthy state. The Library is well served by its staff; and in that, as in so many other ways, I believe that we can face the future with confidence.

Mr Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen, that concludes my remarks for 2002, and I thank you for listening to me with such patience.

Reg Carr
20 June 2002