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

Speech of welcome to the Bodley Medal Event

Oxford, 22 November 2004

Ladies and Gentlemen:

It's my very great pleasure, as Bodley's Librarian, to say a few warm words of welcome to you all to this Bodley Medal reception and dinner, in the historic surroundings of the Convocation House - the University's 17th-century parliament hall. The funds for this splendid room were provided by the Library's great Founder, Sir Thomas Bodley, and the room remains largely unaltered since it was finished in 1640, with an extension to Duke Humfrey's 15th-century library room above it. I can assure you that it's a curious experience to be speaking to you from the very throne that was occupied in turn both by King Charles I and by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell over 350 years ago!

But tonight, we're absolutely delighted that you've all been able to join us, as we meet to add three more honorees to the list of distinguished recipients of the Bodley Medal. The original Medal was struck in 1634, to honour Sir Thomas Bodley himself, and it was designed by Claude Warin, one of the leading medal-makers of the 17th century. But a few years ago, when the roof of Duke Humfrey's Library was being replaced during the major renovations of the Library, we conceived the idea of using some of the metal from Sir Thomas Bodley's 400 year-old roof to create a limited number of replicas of the original Medal. We commissioned the replicas from the Royal Mint; and for the last two years, we have been awarding these splendid copies to a select group of honorees - men and women with whom the Bodleian Library is proud to be associated because of the outstanding contributions they have made to the worlds of communications and literature.

We held our first Bodley Medal event in New York in October 2002; and that was also the occasion when we formally launched the £57 million Libraries Capital Campaign, in the 400th anniversary year of the founding of the Bodleian Library. And I'm very pleased to be able to announce tonight that, two years into that 5-year campaign, we are almost at the half-way mark on our road to our ambitious fundraising target.

In November last year, we held our second Medal event in San Francisco; and I'm particularly pleased to be able to welcome tonight one of the distinguished honorees from that event, Dr John Warnock. Dr Warnock is the co-founder of Adobe Systems, and the inventor of the ubiquitous pdf file format, as well as the creator of the Adobe Acrobat software, which has become such an established industry standard in the information and communications technology world. Dr Warnock, with his wife Marva, is making his first visit to the Bodleian Library today; and, as one of the world's great collectors of rare books, he has also generously agreed to speak at tomorrow evening's formal opening of the Library's major exhibition of early printed books. So we are especially pleased and honoured to welcome Dr Warnock among us.

For the two previous Bodley Medal events, we effectively took Oxford and the Bodleian to North America. We dressed up the New York and San Francisco venues to look like a small piece of Oxford, and we staged a major display of Bodleian treasures there, 'for one night only'. But on this occasion - which is our first Medal event held in Oxford - we are letting the buildings and the contents of the Bodleian Library speak for themselves, and we hope very much that you will all enjoy not only this reception in Convocation House, but also the Gala Dinner which will be held next door amidst the glories of the late-medieval Divinity School.

And tonight, we are honouring three more distinguished individuals from the worlds of literature and communications. From the film world, we have the Oscar-winning producer and director Lord Richard Attenborough; from the world of poetry, we have Oxford's own Nobel Prize-winning Professor Seamus Heaney; and from the world of the theatre, we have the Oscar-winning playwright and screenwriter Sir Tom Stoppard. The Bodleian Library is immensely honoured to be associated with these three cultural giants, each one of whom is something of an icon in their own particular field. Our Master of Ceremonies for the evening, Thelma Holt, who will be taking charge of events once we're in the Divinity School, is herself a celebrated producer and impresario in the theatrical world, as well as a Professor of Theatre of this University, and we're deeply grateful to her for 'doing the honours' for us tonight.

I want to give a warm welcome, too, to our new Vice-Chancellor, Dr John Hood, and his wife Ann. It is still only a few months since their arrival from New Zealand, and this is their first Bodleian Library event; but we hope it will prove to be the first of many, and we're specially delighted that Dr Hood has kindly agreed to present the Medals to each of our honorees. More will be said about each of the Medal recipients at the appropriate time during the evening by their individual sponsors, but I take this opportunity also to thank Anthony Smith, Craig Raine, and Bernard O'Donoghue for agreeing to act in that capacity later on tonight. But, more of all that anon…

I will speak to you again, very briefly, when it's time to proceed into the Divinity School for dinner. In the meantime, I hope you'll enjoy the rest of this pre-dinner reception; but please make sure that you look at the choice Library treasures that we've put out on display in this room tonight. Each one of these items is associated in some fairly obvious way with our three honorees. You can see a 10th-century manuscript of Beowulf, Dr Simon Forman's eye-witness account of a number of Shakespeare plays at the Globe Theatre in 1610 and 1611, and some manuscript letters of Mahatma Gandhi. I'll leave you to make the connections with our honorees! But, like the more extensive displays that we took to New York and San Francisco, these iconic items are just a taster of the wonderful treasures that are held in this historic storehouse of knowledge. So please make sure that you don't miss them! They are, after all, what this place is really all about…

Thank you all, then, once again, for being here tonight, and for sharing this evening with us! You're all very welcome indeed…

Reg Carr