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

Address to the Friends of the Bodleian

26 June 2003

Mr Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It's my pleasure to propose a vote of thanks to our speaker and to give a brief report on the Library's fortunes since the Friends' last AGM.

This is not the first time (and I hope it may not be the last) that I have had the privilege of formally thanking Dr David McKitterick for one of his lectures. Several years ago, as some of you will no doubt remember, Dr McKitterick gave the Lyell Lectures in Bibliography here in Oxford; and it fell to me, as Chairman of the Lyell Electors, to thank him on that occasion also for some sparkling insights into the first 150 years of the history of printing. And today, as I'm sure you'll all agree, David has given us yet another fine demonstration of the reason why he is in such demand as a speaker on a wide range of subjects in the field of historical bibliography.

When David and I were both very much younger, we were colleagues on the staff of the Cambridge University Library; and even at that relatively early stage in his career David had begun to establish the worldwide reputation that he now rightly enjoys as one of the pre-eminent historians of the printed word, and as one of the world's leading scholar librarians. But, if Cambridge University has been fortunate to retain his services and, in large measure, to occupy much of his expert attention all these years, then today we in Oxford have been privileged to learn from him a little more than we already knew about this 'other place'. But shame on us, for turning down the opportunity to publish the Encyclopaedia Britannica here in Oxford! I don't know about you, but I never had any idea before that the 'Enc.Brit.' had such fascinating origins. I suppose I'd never given any thought as to how it came to be put together. I just kind of assumed that it emerged, ready-made, like Aaron's golden calf rising complete out of the flames. So our warm thanks are due to Dr McKitterick, for dispelling any misconceptions we may have had, for enlightening us once again, and for entertaining us so enjoyably this afternoon, and with such 'sound learning'. David: Thank you very much indeed for your lecture today.

I turn, then, from thanking Dr McKitterick, to my own summary of the Bodleian Library's last 12 months.

This time last year, we were just halfway through our quatercententary celebrations; and what a memorable year it turned out to be! Last September, Professor John Barnard gave us a really splendid Friends' London lecture on John Norton and the Stationers' Company at the time of Sir Thomas Bodley. In September, too, we played host to a well-attended international library conference, the excellent proceedings of which have since been largely published in a celebratory issue of the Bodleian Library Record. Later in the autumn, also, we enjoyed an evening with Alan Bennett in the Sheldonian; and on November 8th - the very day of the Library's 400th anniversary - we were privileged to see our late Chancellor, Lord Jenkins, confer honorary doctorates on four of the leading figures from the contemporary library world.

Having launched our ambitious Libraries Capital Campaign, quite gently, at last year's Founder's Lunch, in March, we also gave the Campaign a major boost with a highly successful Gala Dinner in New York in the late autumn, when a stunning display of 52 treasures from the Bodleian formed part of the backdrop to an event which raised no less than $1.5 million for the Campaign funds. On that occasion, too, the Vice-Chancellor presented Bodley Medals to three distinguished Oxonians: the novelist P D James, Sir Rupert Murdoch, and Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. As we hoped, and in spite of the depressed state of the world economy, the New York event provided an ideal launching pad for the Capital Campaign, which, I'm pleased to report, has now raised over £21 million towards the overall target of £57 million, which is the amount we need to complete all eight of the projects contained within the Campaign's primary portfolio.

I hardly need to stress, in present company, just how vital the success of the Campaign is to the future health and welfare of the Bodleian Library in particular. I take this opportunity, therefore, to express my personal thanks to all the many people - staff, friends, volunteers, and donors - who are giving such strong and valued support to the Campaign as it continues into its second and succeeding years. It is truly a team effort; and it is a pleasure and a privilege for me to be part of it, and to have such a clear demonstration of just how important the continuing development of the Bodleian Library is to so many dedicated and generous people. I take this opportunity, also, to thank the Council of the Friends, and its Chairman Professor Jon Stallworthy, for the crucial support which it is giving, right now, to the establishment of the Bodley Circle, of which I hope many of you will want to become members, by making some kind of legacy in favour of the Bodleian. There are already more than 60 people who have so far been generous enough to do this; and we shall naturally be delighted to see that number increase by the time we formally inaugurate the Circle in September.

But this last year hasn't simply been about raising funds for the Capital Campaign. 2002 was also, as many of you will know, an outstandingly good year for major acquisitions for the Library - which is as it should be. This time last year, with your help, we had been able to secure the purchase of the Mendelssohn Hebrides Overture manuscript, the important 12th-century Arabic book of maps, and the extremely significant 17th-century Ethiopic manuscript, The Harp of Praise. But to those truly remarkable acquisitions we have since added a further extensive collection of Prime Minister Asquith's letters. And, right at the end of last year, we received a most generous endowment of £2 million from the University Press, the proceeds of which will continue to support acquisitions in the Bodleian in perpetuity. I think I hardly need to emphasise how deeply grateful we are for all the help of this kind that we receive to enable us to maintain the world-class status of the Library's already great collections.

But, as I have said before on occasions like this, it's not just the buildings and the collections which help to make the Bodleian Library what it is; it's also the outstanding quality of the staff who work within it, and who serve to maintain and develop the Library's great reputation. And this last year has seen its fair share of key staff changes at the senior level. The departure of the Deputy Director, John Tuck, to the British Library last October, followed by the retirement at the end of the year of the Keeper of Special Collections and Western Manuscripts, Mary Clapinson, both represented, in their different ways, potentially serious blows to the quality and effectiveness of the Library staff, and they are still both greatly missed. But happily, they have both now been replaced by outstanding appointees: Ronald Milne joined us as Deputy Director in November, and Richard Ovenden has recently replaced Mary Clapinson. Both of them have come to us from Edinburgh; and both of them, in their own ways, are already proving to be outstanding acquisitions for the Library. Michael Turner, too, whose departure I mentioned this time last year, was eventually replaced in August by Chris Woods, as Head of Preservation and Collections Care, and he, together with the appointment of my own Senior Executive Assistant, Julie Evans, is already making the kind of distinctive contribution to the Library's work on which we have come to depend so much.

We are also about to lose the services of two outstandingly effective and loyal servants of the Library, through the appointment of the Library's Head of Administration, Steve Waterman, as Bursar of Mansfield College, and through the retirement of my own Secretary, Jean Glynn. And, while we are deeply grateful for the exemplary and unstinting service which they have both given to the Library, we are all the more conscious of how important it will be to replace them as well as we possibly can. Such staff are the life-blood of a great institution, and we shall miss them very much indeed.

But finally - and without wanting to end this report on a downbeat note - it would be remiss of me not to say just a few words about the recurrent finances of the Library, since they are so directly conditioned by the resource constraints under which the University itself is presently labouring. Those of you who are readers of the Oxford Magazine will have noticed that, in a recent issue, the Registrar of the University has taken the somewhat unusual, but immensely helpful, step of explaining the institution's current financial difficulties; and these are inevitably having a direct impact on the Library, since we still depend for the majority of our recurrent finances on the University's own general income. As a result of Oxford's present constraints, the financial year 2003-04 will in fact be the first year in living memory in which the Library will not receive compensation for the higher-than-RPI level at which library materials typically increase. And the knock-on effect of this seems likely to mean that, from August onwards, the purchasing power of the Library's acquisitions funds will be reduced by between 5 and 10%. We have faced this kind of regrettable situation before, and we cannot, unfortunately, be certain that it will not happen again.

But to finish on an upbeat note, I want you to know that we shall be doing our utmost to attenuate the effects of these financial constraints during the coming year; and I am personally hopeful that the more integrated approach which we are beginning to take to the purchase of library materials across the University Library Services as a whole will help us, wherever possible, to make more effective use of our resources generally. As always these days, these are 'interesting times' in which we live and work; but I'm confident that with the dedicated efforts of the staff, and with the continuing support of Friends like you, the Library will come through these challenges and - who knows? - may prove to be all the stronger and fitter for them. Mr Pro-Vice-Chancellor, and Friends, you can be sure that we shall not fail for lack of effort. We are here not just to serve, but to succeed in our service!

Thank you all very much for listening to me so patiently today ...

Reg Carr
26 June 2003