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

Address to the Friends of the Bodleian

24 June 2004

Mr Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It's my very great pleasure to propose a vote of thanks to our guest speaker, as well as to give a brief report on the work of the Bodleian during the past twelve months.

Dr Palmer has given us an extremely fascinating talk about the history of two very significant and distinguished libraries. For those of us for whom library history is a compelling interest, today's lecture will have been a special delight in any case. But when such an address, as it has done today, also helps us to put our own great library, and its celebrated Founder, into a new historical perspective, it gives us reason to be doubly grateful.

Sir Thomas Bodley, and the world-famous institution he founded, did not exist in a vacuum; and I'm sure that we've all very much enjoyed the insights that Dr Palmer has given us into that wider historical context in which our Founder's work was set - and into the power and influence of his example in the development of other important libraries in England in the 17th century.

Dr Palmer himself presides over a library with a long and distinguished history, and we have been very fortunate indeed that he has been willing to tailor his address to us today in such a way as to make it specially meaningful to us in Oxford.

Dr Palmer: we are deeply grateful to you for all the work that you have put into your address, and for coming among us today to give us such a feast of library history. We appreciate it very much indeed.

Let me turn, then, to my brief report on Bodleian Library matters during the past 12 months.

This is clearly not the time for me to burden a captive audience with a detailed account of the minutiae of the Library's life and work. But rather, I see this as a welcome opportunity to share with the Bodleian's closest 'friends' just an overall sense of the year now past. And I want to do that now by picking out the year's most significant events, and by acknowledging just a few of the many people whose particular help and generosity we have most recently experienced. This is a pleasant task for me to undertake; but I hope not to detain you too long while I perform it. Tea and sandwiches beckon in the Divinity School!

As far as the highlights of the year are concerned, these have inevitably been thinner on the ground than in the previous, more hectic, year of our 400th anniversary. Nevertheless, we still enjoyed our fair share of enjoyable set-piece events, in another year which has been pleasingly punctuated by exhibitions, by important publications, by receptions, by visits from VIPs, and perhaps most important of all, by the acquisition of special books and manuscripts to strengthen our collections. It has also been a year in which we have been able to make steady, if unspectacular, progress with the Capital Campaign. So, let me just report on each of these in turn, as succinctly as I can.

Exhibitions on Napoleon and the threatened invasion of England, on Disraeli's bicentenary, and the current one on medieval maps, have underlined once again the very significant contribution that the Library and its collections consistently make to scholarly research. And, of course, the publication of the accompanying catalogues bears witness to the great expertise of the Library's curatorial staff, as well as to the quality and professionalism of those responsible for the Library's in-house publishing programme.

The publishing programme has itself been greatly strengthened by the work of Dr Samuel Fanous as the full-time Head of our new Communications and Publishing Department; and it has been very pleasing to see the fruits of that expanded activity begin to come to maturity. The year's publishing highlight has perhaps been the long-awaited catalogue of the Bodleian's collection of portraits. This has been a labour of love on which Dr Kenneth Garlick has been working for more years than he may care to remember, and we are very pleased to see it in print at last!

We were delighted, too, in January and February of this year, to mount a small but popular exhibition on Chaucer in the Divinity School. This was a joint venture with our nearest neighbours, Blackwell's, and it formed an integral part of their celebration of 125 years of successful bookselling in the Broad Street shop. We were gratified, also, earlier this year, to have almost 5,000 visitors to our one-day display of the Gutenberg Bible, which was the Bodleian's small contribution to the celebration of World Book Day. The queues out into the Old Quadrangle made us realise, in case we were not already aware of it, just how much our treasures are capable of exciting public interest!

As far as receptions and other events are concerned, the session began with a lunch marking the formal launch of the Bodley Circle, designed to increase the number of those who have generously made provision for the Bodleian in their wills. Under the active guidance of David Vaisey and Jonathan Taylor, the initiative got off to a flying start, and the Bodley Circle lunch now forms an integral part of our calendar of events. Our thanks are due to the Council of the Friends for their encouragement and support for this long-term fundraising initiative, as for so many other things of importance for the ongoing welfare of the Library. As a member of the Friends' Council myself, I am very conscious of how much the Library owes to you, the Friends, and I take this opportunity in particular to thank your Chairman, Professor Stallworthy, for all that he and the other members of the Council do for us in so many ways.

Interesting visitors to the Library during the year were many and varied, as usual. Only last week we welcomed Mr Terry Jones, Oxford's own member of the cast of Monty Python, and whose personal interest in medieval maps was enough of an incentive to make him willing to speak at a private viewing of our current exhibition. The principal VIP visitors this year included the Chinese Premier and the King of Sweden. And a personal visit by Dr John Hood, our new Vice-Chancellor-designate, served to give me and my most senior colleagues - in common with others in the University who have so far spent time with him - a very pleasing sense of confidence about the future.

And, although the year has been, and remains, particularly difficult in terms of the Library's finances (in which respect we are not at all out of line with most of the rest of the central University), we can nevertheless look back on 2003-4 as another excellent year for major acquisitions. A steady stream of rare book donations has again come our way, with the Friends being the primary vehicle for such individual generosity. And Dr Juel-Jensen once again honoured us with further additions to his long list of significant gifts.

Our Head of Special Collections and Western Manuscripts, Richard Ovenden, distinguished himself by his energetic fundraising activity during the year; and Richard must take the lion's share of the credit for leading the Library's efforts to ensure that the Abinger-Shelley papers stay here in the Bodleian. The £3.85 million required to secure in perpetuity this major piece of England's literary heritage represents the largest single fundraising target the Library has ever faced in connection with any single acquisition. But in saluting Richard's outstanding achievement in this respect, we also acknowledge the extraordinary generosity of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation, and, as so often, of the Friends of the Bodleian, whose early contribution to the appeal made so much else possible by the example which it set to others.

The Friends also helped us acquire further papers of both Philip Larkin and of Walter de la Mare. And most recently - very much at the last minute - we were able to acquire, from the sale of the Library of the Earl of Macclesfield, a very important first edition of Archimedes, extensively annotated by John Greaves. Greaves was the 17th-century Savilian Professor of Astronomy here, and a number of his papers are already with us. I hardly need to emphasise, in present company, how much this continuing enrichment of the Library's research collections represents the lifeblood of all that the Bodleian aspires to be.

In a very different, but potentially no less important, respect, I draw your attention to the fact that, in December last year, Her Majesty's Government successfully steered through Parliament a legislative bill which, once the necessary consequential regulations are published, will extend the arrangements for legal deposit to include the deposit of electronic publications. Sir Thomas Bodley himself can have had no possible inkling, almost 400 years ago, of where his far-sighted agreement with the Stationers' Company would eventually lead. But there can be no doubt that our successors will look back on this largely untrumpeted piece of parliamentary business as a major milestone in the never-ending task of keeping the Bodleian's collections at the world-class end of the international library spectrum.

I mentioned earlier that the Libraries Capital Campaign was proceeding reasonably well, and almost £7 million has been raised since the Campaign was launched at the Library's New York dinner in October 2002. But there is still more than £30 million to raise in the remaining three years or so of the Campaign, and the actual cashflow has not been sufficient to enable us to keep to the original timing for the implementation of all the projects in the Campaign portfolio. Even so, a start-on-site will be made at the end of this calendar year on two of the most visible Campaign projects, when both Phase 1 of the New Bodleian renovations and the refurbishment of the Clarendon Building will be put into effect.

The Campaign itself was significantly boosted by the many contacts arising from a further Bodleian Gala Dinner in San Francisco last November, and by the many conversations and meetings which took place around the North American Alumni Reunion which took place in New York in April. I was also recently invited to make a well-received presentation about the Campaign to the Board of Americans for Oxford; and there are many other promising signs that the Campaign is now gathering serious momentum. This is clearly a time when support for the Campaign needs to be intensified in order to increase the likelihood of its ultimate success. So I want you to know that I regard it as my most important current personal objective as Bodley's Librarian to ensure that no effort is spared in this respect.

But the final short section of my report is not about money, or buildings, or even about those all-important collections. It's about that unparalleled and priceless resource: people. I've already mentioned quite a number of individuals; and there are, of course, many hundreds more who could easily be named and thanked, and without whom the Bodleian Library would not be what it is today. But if I pick out only a few names now, it should be remembered that they are typical of a very large army of people who have shown themselves committed to the Bodleian's welfare in many different ways, whether as library or University staff, or as supporters and benefactors.

We mourned the loss, during the year, of Lady Mary Eccles, whose name was carved in marble on our Benefactor's Panel many years ago. Her name is there because she was a great lover of the Bodleian, and because she possessed, and used, the means of a philanthropist to benefit us generously. But her passing means much more than the regretted death of a valued donor: Mary Eccles was a true friend of libraries (and of librarians), and she was a very gracious lady, whose personal warmth and active encouragement those of us who knew her will always treasure.

The Library also lost this year the friendship, material support, and personal involvement of Mrs Hilary Walton, whose earlier donation in memory of her late sister, the novelist Barbara Pym, continues to be such a valued means of assisting library staff to undertake work which contributes to their own personal development. It was my great privilege to attend her funeral, at Finstock village church, in a moving ceremony which testified to the great affection in which she was held by all who knew her. Hilary Walton was a true friend.

The whole University joined together in mourning the loss, in October, of another well-respected lady, the wife of our own Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Slack, the Chairman of our proceedings today. The death of Gill Slack was a cruel blow to many; and in taking this opportunity to acknowledge the debt of gratitude that we in the Bodleian Library owe to Professor Slack for all his untold labours on our behalf, we pay tribute also to the memory of his wife Gill, who was a friend to many of us, and whom we remember with great affection.

Others have passed off the scene, too, for less harrowing reasons. Steve Waterman, the Library's Secretary, moved on to become the Bursar of Mansfield College, to be replaced by David Perrow, from Templeton College and the University of Newcastle. The Bodleian Law Librarian, Barbara Tearle, retired during the year, after many years of loyal service, to be replaced by Ruth Bird, from Melbourne. Richard Bell retired only last week from his position as Head of Reader Services and Collection Development, after 32 years of dedicated hard work for the Library. They, and other long-serving members of staff who left during the year, deserve our warmest thanks for all that they did to promote the interests of the Library in their different capacities.

But most of all, at today's meeting, I want to pay my final and warmest tribute to the Friends' own Membership Secretary, Penny Sturgis, who has recently retired and gone to live with her husband Simon in Northern France. Penny's modesty prevented me from paying to her the normal published acknowledgement from the Library when she left us. But it would be entirely remiss of me not to pay tribute to her in present company. Penny's unstinting labours on behalf of the Friends will be known to virtually all of you: she was for years the organising genius of the many Friends-related events, and her secretarial work for the Friends was of the highest order. But she did very much more than that. Her work brought unnumbered benefits to the Library, in terms of funds raised and valuable contacts made. We shall greatly miss her, and the truly remarkable contribution she made to the life and welfare of the Bodleian. Penny has left us an example of generous and devoted service that will not be easy to follow.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Pro-Vice-Chancellor: thank you for all your support throughout the year, and thank you for listening to me so patiently today.

Reg Carr
24 June 2004