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

Address to the Friends of the Bodleian

23 June 2005

Mr Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen:

There is a long tradition of distinguished and stimulating speakers at these Annual General Meetings; and we are invariably treated to an enjoyable end-of-term delight on these occasions. But I'm sure that I speak for everyone here today when I say that we have had an immensely fascinating talk from Professor Warner this afternoon.

When the title of her lecture was announced (The Word Unfleshed: Memory in Cyberspace), I can honestly admit that I had very little idea about what she might say. The title was one of the most impenetrable that I can remember. But today, any such obscurity has been completely dispelled; and, like you, I have been treated to a feast of ideas, to a 'mind-voyage' of discovery, and to a broad landscape of literary imagery and insights. Professor Warner, you have opened our eyes to many new pictures, and to the great connective power of the mind. We appreciate also, very much, the timely words of warning you have given us about the dangers of dematerialising the written word in cyberspace. On behalf of the Friends of the Bodleian, I thank you very warmly indeed for sharing all this with us today. It has been a great pleasure to listen to you.

But after an address of such quality, it is all the more daunting for a mere librarian (albeit a Bodley's Librarian!) to try to engage the attention of an already satisfied audience with a report on the comparatively down-to-earth business of the Bodleian Library. But I judge that by making my remarks as brief as I can I will not spoil the enjoyment of the occasion too much. You are, after all, the Friends of the Bodleian, and that means you are no ordinary audience! And I promise to do my best to give you just the highlights of an extraordinarily busy and successful year…

In terms of 'set piece events', 2004-5 was, in fact, almost as crowded as the Library's 400th anniversary year, in 2002.

In September, a dinner marking the near-completion of the Library's £5.5 million appeal to acquire the Abinger-Shelley Papers was held in University College, with the generous support of the Master and Fellows of the College. Having set ourselves the daunting task of raising such a large amount of money, we are deeply indebted for the success of the appeal not only to the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation, but also to the Council of the Friends and to the very many generous individuals who made this major acquisition possible.

In October, the Friends' London Lecture was delivered to a packed audience by the distinguished biographer Claire Tomalin, who gave a marvellous talk entitled Samuel Pepys: the Divided Self.

In November there was a gala dinner in the Divinity School, during which our new Vice-Chancellor presented Bodley Medals to Lord Richard Attenborough, Professor Seamus Heaney, and Sir Tom Stoppard - each of whom spoke of their delight at the honour bestowed on them.

On the evening following that event, Dr John Warnock, the co-founder of Adobe Systems, spoke at the formal opening ceremony for the Library's major exhibition of incunables, After Gutenberg. The exhibition itself was a by-product of the Library's long-running Incunable Catalogue project; and I'm very pleased to be able to say that we are now very close to completing that project, with the six-volume catalogue expected from the Oxford University Press next month, and a launch party being planned for late September.

In December, almost 100 North American Friends and benefactors gathered in New York to mark the acquisition of the Abinger-Shelley Papers. And the enjoyment of that particular evening was greatly enhanced by the announcement by the celebrated book-collector William Scheide that he had just concluded making the arrangements for a generous gift of $500,000 to the Bodleian.

In addition to the Abinger-Shelley Papers, and the usual steady flow of special individual items acquired by gift and purchase, the Library's research collections were also strengthened in other ways during the year.

Last August, the Council of the Friends and the Library suffered a grievous loss with the death of Albi Rosenthal, a Council member of many years' standing, and one of the Bodleian's most loyal supporters. Nevertheless, it was with extreme gratitude that the Library learned that Albi, with typical generosity, had bequeathed to the Bodleian his outstanding personal collection of Mozart materials, assembled over a long career as one of the world's leading rare book and manuscript dealers.

Late in 2004, the Library made headline news with the acquisition by gift of the extensive archives of Marconi plc. Valued by Christie's in 1997 at £5 million, the collection has been donated to the University, with the archives coming to the Bodleian, and the historic equipment being added to the collections of the Museum of the History of Science. At the same time, the Library was fortunate to secure substantial donations from the Wireless Preservation Society, for the cataloguing of the archive, and to fund a number of Visiting Research Fellowships, for scholarly work on the materials.

It is also very pleasing to report that, with the generous assistance of the Prism Fund and a number of other donors including Merton College, the Library was able to purchase from the Macclesfield Library sale a copy of the first printed edition of Archimedes' works, dated 1544, and extensively annotated by its former owner John Greaves, Oxford's first Savilian Professor of Astronomy.

And, most recently of all, the Library has been fortunate to secure at auction, with the generous help of University College and one of its major donors, a small but immensely important group of Shelley letters relating to the poet's atheism and his sending down from Oxford.

The Library is, of course, always delighted to become the permanent home for such important research materials. But we still face an ongoing challenge in our efforts to administer them all as expeditiously as they deserve. Compared to its North American peers, the Bodleian has a Special Collections staff complement which is worryingly small, with as much as 40% of the staff costs in this important area being dependent on non-University funding. It is all the more pleasing, therefore, to acknowledge the generous help received to undertake some of these key processing tasks.

With the world's second largest collection of medieval manuscripts, the Library has been fortunate to benefit from cataloguing grants from the Kress Foundation and from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. Grants have been received also from the Heritage Lottery Fund and from the History of Parliament Trust, for text encoding work on the Carte Collection of Irish Papers, from the Tolkien Trust for a 5-year project to catalogue the Tolkien Archive, and from the Trustees of the Conservative Party Archives for work on an oral history project. Although the longer-term staffing issues remain, these generous contributions are at least enabling the Library to do more than it otherwise could to make its important research materials accessible to the scholars whose work depends upon the prompt and convenient availability of the Library's collections.

The Capital Campaign itself has progressed gratifyingly well during the last year. Since last August, with the approval of the University Council, I have been concentrating most of my own time on the Campaign and on other fundraising activities. With over £30 million raised or pledged towards the original Campaign target of £57 million, this new arrangement is making it possible to intensify the fundraising efforts, to engage with a wider range of potential donors, and to plan a more intensive series of Campaign-related and fundraising activities.

With my Deputy Ronald Milne taking on the rôle of Acting Director and Bodley's Librarian, and with David Perrow as Acting Deputy, the new arrangement is working well, and I take this opportunity to thank them both, as well as other members of my senior staff, for willingly and ably shouldering the burden of so much extra management responsibility.

The support of Sir Robert Horton and his fellow Development Board members has continued to be crucial in maintaining the momentum of the Campaign. It is therefore very pleasing to be able to report that the fundraising targets for two of the eight Campaign projects (the Clarendon Building refurbishment, and the Hybrid (electronic) Library developments) have already been effectively achieved. As you may have noticed, work on the Clarendon Building began just before Easter this year, and by this time next year the building will have been re-opened as the headquarters of the libraries' central administration. Under the Hybrid Library project, a three-year programme of mass-digitisation of the Bodleian's 19th-century printed books, funded by Google, will be taking place, based in the former Blackwell's Science Building at Osney Mead. The 'Google deal' is the firstfruits of two years' hard work to persuade the world's leading Internet company to include the Bodleian as the only non-North American institution in the company's ambitious plans to digitise vast quantities of otherwise inaccessible printed materials, for convenient delivery via the World Wide Web. We like to think that our visionary Founder would have approved of this contemporary interpretation of his original wish for his library to serve not just the University of Oxford, but also the whole 'Republic of Letters'!

At the same time, with many more millions still to raise for the redevelopment of the New Bodleian Library, the opportunity has been taken to review these major works, and it is likely that the original plans for the refurbishment of the Giles Gilbert Scott building will soon be formally amended to include both public and reader facilities designed to provide a much higher level of direct interaction with the Library's special collections.

While fundraising for the refurbishment of the Bodleian Law Library is still proceeding, some radical rethinking has been taking place about two of the other projects (the extension of the Taylor Institution Library, and the renovation of the Upper Radcliffe Camera), in the context of a thoroughgoing revision of the overall library estate strategy.

I take this opportunity to place on record the Library's warm thanks to the many generous donors who have responded to the Campaign appeal, and especially to this year's major benefactors, Joseph Sassoon, William Scheide, Doug Smith, and Barrie Wigmore, whose support has been such a very great encouragement. Notable, too, is the gracious agreement of the Chancellor to lend his name, and his personal advocacy, to the Campaign, as its distinguished Patron.

But finally, I want to say a few brief words about the key changes in personnel which the Library has experienced during the year. The Friends' long-serving Assistant Secretary, Penny Sturgis, has been replaced by Katia Pisvin. But together with Mrs Sturgis, the year's retirement list included a total of eight members of the assistant staff who chalked up a combined total of 228 years of service to the Bodleian. With the Secretary to the Keeper of Special Collections, Gwydwr Leitch among those who retired, it would be 'putting it mildly' to say that the wide-ranging knowledge and experience of so many loyal and key members of staff will be impossible to replace.

There were changes too - although not quite so sweeping - among the professional staff. After more than 32 years of devoted service to the Bodleian in a variety of important roles, Richard Bell retired from the post of Head of Reader Services last June; Yvonne Hibbott retired in September after 14 years in the Radcliffe Science Library; Steven Tomlinson left the Library this May after 29 years in Western Manuscripts; and this last month we also said goodbye to Rachel Clark after 15 years in the Library, where she was initially the manager of the Gift Shop and more recently the Head of the Library's Tourism and Trading Department. Saddest of all, however, was the sudden loss of the Foreign and Comparative Law Librarian, Gillian Sands, after only two months on the staff, whose tragic death-in-service came as a deep shock to her colleagues in the Bodleian Law Library.

In respect of all those who have retired or died during the year, the Library records its sincere gratitude for all the loyal service given, and for all the 'jobs well done'. And together with those who remain to carry on the work, we look forward to achievements yet to come. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be supported by so many gifted people in the great Bodleian enterprise…

Changes, and the welcome support of a variety of non-Library staff, were also experienced outside the Library itself. Chief among these supporters has been our new Vice-Chancellor, Dr John Hood, who has taken an active and expert interest in the Library's development from the very beginning of his Vice-Chancellorship.

But on the negative side, this autumn the Principal of Linacre, our Chairman today, will step down from his 8-year stint in the Chair of the Library's governing body. Professor Slack has guided the affairs of the Library with great wisdom and diplomacy during his long term of office. For me personally, he has been a truly outstanding source of support; and when he hands over the reins of Library governance to Dr Bill Macmillan in October, all those who have seen at close quarters his unfailing dedication to the Bodleian's cause will know how great is the Library's long-term debt to such a major University figure. Pro-Vice-Chancellor, please accept this warm expression of our enduring gratitude for all that you have done for us…

This is the ninth time that I have had the privilege of addressing the Friends as Bodley's Librarian, and I trust that it will not be the last. But I want you to know that, as the years roll by, I have genuine confidence that the Bodleian Library will continue to go from strength to strength. The Bodleian undoubtedly has a bright future before it as one of the great libraries of the world; and I take this opportunity, on behalf of those of us who are privileged to be its temporary custodians, to express our heartfelt thanks to all those of you who share the same concern for this great Library's long-term health and welfare. Your continuing support is appreciated very much indeed.

Thank you all very much!

Reg Carr
Bodley's Librarian
23 June 2005