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



Click on the images for larger versions

Opening slide

I just want to make the point (in case I forget to mention it later), that every image I'm going to show you today has been captured and downloaded off the Internet. (I say this because that very fact, in itself, underlines how the Digital Revolution is changing things in Oxford. Only as little as a year ago, I could not have found all the material for this presentation on the World Wide Web.)

Rooftop view of Duke Humfrey and Radcliffe Camera

So, is this the kind of image which is conjured up in your mind when someone mentions the library system in Oxford?

Tower of the Five Orders

And this? Wonderful old buildings: part of the glorious architectural history and heritage of England,

Arts End

...and filled with printed and manuscript treasures from the past? Is that how you think of the Bodleian Library, for example - as a kind of "museum of the book", as if it were almost frozen in time, like some outdated dinosaur from a bygone age? Do you think such libraries - even perhaps libraries as an entire species - are ultimately condemned to extinction (or perhaps, at best, to live on the margins of the post-modern world), as more and more of the information needs of the modern age are met in electronic form and supplied across global communications networks, rather than by that curious 3-dimensional physical artefact known as the printed book?

Chained book

Well, if that's your view of Oxford's libraries and of the future, then today's presentation should give you serious pause for thought. Because I can assure you that in the libraries of the University of Oxford, we see a very long and a very exciting future ahead for us, as the Digital Revolution gathers pace, and as we increasingly harness the new technology to revitalise the support which our libraries provide for scholarship. And we do not see ourselves, in any sense, as the somewhat dusty guardians of the even dustier relics of the past, but rather as the 'information brokers' of today, and as the 'knowledge management agents' of tomorrow's Brave New Information World.

Bodleian Library: West Front

And why do we say this? Why do we believe that a library like the Bodleian Library (illustrated here), with 400 years of history behind it, can look forward confidently to many more centuries of successful service ahead?

Well, first of all, because we are certain, on the basis of our experience as an institution of legal deposit, that the death of the book is very far from imminent. Like Mark Twain, in 1897, the printed book in the year 2000 could be forgiven for smiling and saying: "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated"! The book as object, I can assure you, has a lot of mileage left in it. In fact, by a strange kind of irony, the computer age has actually increased the quantity of printed material being published. In our libraries in Oxford, for example, we receive more and more printed material all the time: at the moment, we are adding a 1,000 printed items to our collections for every single day of the week throughout the year; and this represents more than 2 linear miles of additional shelf-space per annum. The book, I can promise you, is by no means dead...

Statue of Earl of Pembroke

And second of all, we are finding that more and more people are coming to Oxford every year to use our traditional library materials: there are no signs that our libraries are being used any less in this digital age. Quite the opposite, in fact. For its many tens of thousands of readers, the Bodleian Library remains today what it has always been - a rich and seemingly inexhaustible treasure-trove of printed, manuscript and archival resources supporting every conceivable kind of study and research. Since that far-off day in November 1602 when it first opened its doors to what its Founder called the 'republic of letters', the Bodleian has been, not simply the principal library of the University of Oxford, but also an internationally renowned haven of learning for all comers. And we are finding more and more that a sizeable proportion of the Library's growing numbers of users come from outside Oxford. (More than 60% of current Bodleian reader's cards are held by non-members of the University; and, of these, about 50% are held by readers from outside the UK.) And this is very much in line with the status of the University as a world-class institution, as well as being a realisation of the outward-looking vision of the Library's Founder.

Duke Humfrey's Library

From 1598 until the (re)opening of the library in 1602 and beyond, Sir Thomas Bodley lavished care, attention and a very large fortune on the refurbishment and re-equipment of Duke Humfrey's late mediaeval library room. He filled it with shelves and benches and, above all, with printed books and manuscripts - many of which were cajoled and charmed as gifts from the wide circle of influential friends he had made during his career as a diplomat in the service of Elizabeth I. Sir Thomas also concluded a far-sighted agreement with the Stationers' Company in 1610, and this made the Bodleian Library a deposit library for all new books published under licence in Britain. (This agreement of 1610, incidentally, is the origin of Oxford's present status as one of the six legal deposit institutions of the British Isles; and this is a status which it has enjoyed far longer than any of the other five). Then finally, in 1613, Sir Thomas rounded off his benefactions to the University by bequeathing the bulk of his considerable estate for library purposes. Described by Bodley's close friend Francis Bacon as 'an ark to save learning from the deluge', the Bodleian Library, propelled headlong by Bodley's extraordinary generosity and energy into the systematic collection of the recorded wisdom of mankind, grew very quickly after his death, and is now by far the largest academic library in the UK, being at least a third larger than the library system in Cambridge.

Map of the University Departments and Colleges

Today the Library has grown way beyond anything that even its founder could ever have envisaged, with dependent libraries and storage sites all over Oxford, as well as beneath and beyond the city. (The 12 red shapes on this map of the University's departments and colleges represent the way the Bodleian Library now has its tentacles everywhere!) And throughout all those four centuries, the Library has remained staunchly faithful to its Founder's wish that it should open its doors to any and all in pursuit of learning - and this is a long and noble tradition on which we are determined to continue to build, as we develop the collections, as we raise money to keep the ancient infrastructure in good repair, and as we welcome those ever-increasing numbers of readers and visitors into our buildings.

OUL Web page

But, of course, as we very well know in the libraries of the University, in the brave new digital world of the 21st century, the value of a world-class library system is no longer measured simply by the size of its collections, nor even by the state of repair of its physical infrastructure, important though these things clearly are. In an age when electronic information is bringing rapid changes into the world of scholarly communication, the library system in Oxford is rapidly developing a completely new paradigm of access - an entirely new approach, in which digital information and communications technology are playing an increasingly crucial role. "Digitisation" and "The Web" are now as much a part of our library life in Oxford as they are anywhere else in the developed world; and our library website (of which this is the home page) is believed to be one of the most extensive of its kind in Europe.

Subject list of Library Catalogues

And this is the next level down on the library website, where all the electronic catalogues and the hundreds of reference databases available to readers are sorted and listed by broad subject areas. Just one click on any of these lines, and you're away into an electronic Aladdin's Cave, with the riches of the whole of the Oxford library system at your fingertips!

The 'hybrid' library

And it's in this environment that we in Oxford, in common with many of the world's major research library systems, are using the term 'hybrid' library to describe the integration of our physical collections with our virtual collections. And so we see ourselves increasingly operating as a 'hybrid' operation, using technology to help us manage and provide access to very large and growing collections of both print and non-print materials, with much-enhanced services, not only for those who continue to come physically to Oxford, but also for that wider and increasingly global community of networked information users who access our facilities electronically without ever setting foot in the place.

So what have we got out there on the electronic networks? What are we providing, locally and on the Web, to make it possible for the Oxford mountain to come digitally to Mohammed (wherever in the world Mohammed may happen to be)?

Pre-1920 Catalogue, CD-ROM cover

Well, of course, as you can imagine, we've had to put an awful lot of effort into the conversion to machine-readable form of our vast manual catalogues. And this was one of our earliest efforts: a CD-ROM version of the Bodleian Library's pre-1920 Catalogue of Printed Books. This was published in 1993 and marketed by the University Press; but we have since put the whole thing up on-line, and we are now just at the point of integrating it into our main library information system, which we call OLIS.

OLIS front page

And this is the front page of OLIS, the Oxford Libraries Information System; and in the last few years the University has enabled us to make a major investment in this computerised union catalogue, which has grown in a quite spectacular fashion. So much so, that it is now possible for readers with access to a networked terminal anywhere in Oxford - and throughout the world via the Internet - to gain round-the-clock access to information about the Bodleian's vast printed holdings, as well as those of more than 75 other libraries in the University. In the large-scale conversion process of the Bodleian's records, the basic entries in the manual catalogue were matched against those in the North American OCLC database (containing over 40 million full machine-readable records), with the matched records being returned to the Library by electronic transfer. At its peak, this major conversion programme reached the level of 44,000 records per month, with the full records now making it possible for users of OLIS to search for items by author, title, keyword, or subject - a greatly enhanced facility compared with the physically laborious task of searching the old manual catalogues (which consisted of almost 700 volumes, and were accessible only when the Library was open).

OLIS record/search result

And here's a brief record display which is typical of our online catalogue, which now contains many millions of records. The display provides the basic bibliographical information to enable you to identify the book you're looking for; it tells you at a glance how many copies we have in Oxford (there are three in this case); and it tells you whether or not they are currently out on loan, or otherwise unavailable for immediate use. We are now almost on the point of linking these catalogue records with an automated stack request system, which will enable readers to pre-order any materials which are stored in closed access areas simply by clicking directly on a catalogue entry like this. This imminent development will save an enormous amount of academic and library staff time, and it represents a giant stride forward from the present labour-intensive manual book request system.

Railtrack passenger timetable

Allied to this radical modernisation of the OLIS catalogue, the new technology is also being used to enrich the catalogue database with other relevant information. Already, some printed book records like this one direct readers electronically to a website containing associated material (in this case it's current travel information): and readers will be able to click on the website address and go directly to it via a live Internet connection. So, in this example, you can click on this catalogue record, and you'll get to this Web page:

Web version of railway timetable

- which is the Web version of Railtrack's Journey Planner for Great Britain. Enter the details of the journey you'd like to make, and then click on the 'Submit' button...

Journey Planner results

...and here are the results: if you want to get to London by train from Oxford before 7am on a weekday, then you'll have to leave on the 5.33, changing at Didcot Parkway!

So much, then, for now, about our enrichment of the printed catalogues.

EAD title page

Having made such enormous strides with our book records, we have now begun to turn our attention to the really mammoth task of converting to machine-readable form the very large number of manual records describing our vast holdings of original manuscripts and archives. The slide displayed here illustrates the international standard format (known as EAD) which we are now using to make large quantities of our unique research materials available for accessible searching on the Web. (The electronic finding aid displayed here provides very sophisticated and carefully structured Web access to the full details of the contents of the very large personal archive of Maurice Latey, who served the BBC in various key posts from 1931 until well into the 1970s.)

But beyond all this provision of electronic descriptions of our library holdings (what we call metadata, in the jargon of the profession), we have also been working very hard over the last few years to create digital versions of some the original materials themselves.

Caxton advertisement

For example, we already have digital surrogates (as we call them) for quite a number of our rarest printed materials. (This is one of only two surviving printed adverts used by William Caxton in 1479 to publicise his books.) And in order to place this kind of conversion work on a production basis, we are now embarking, in partnership with the University of Michigan and with Bell & Howell as our commercial partners, on the systematic digitisation of our enormous 17th and 18th century collections of printed books; and within a few years, we should have hundreds of thousands of texts like this one up on the Web.

ILEJ home page

In collaboration with a number of major research libraries in the UK, too, we have already digitised substantial numbers of important 18th and 19th-century journals. This is the home page for the Web version of the ILEJ Project - the Internet Library of Early Journals; and the easily searchable index we have constructed will take you smoothly to pages like this one.

Blackwood's Magazine 1863

or, to an individual page like this:

Gentleman's Magazine 1730s

where the topic of interest highlighted is the value of the dollar in relation to the Pound sterling in the American plantations of the 1730s

In Oxford, we have built up a great deal of expertise in digitizing and indexing rare materials like these, and we intend to do a great deal more of it as we continue to transform the paradigm of access to our incomparable research holdings.

Early Manuscripts at Oxford

We are investing lots of time and energy in creating a critical mass of digitised manuscript material which is of crucial importance to historical scholarship...

Virgin and Child, Ms Buchanan

and we are systematically putting this material up on the Web as high-resolution images like this one, from the late 15th century:

John Speed's Oxford

The Bodleian Library also has outstanding collections of antique maps; and there are now many hundreds of these in digital form, like this John Speed map of Oxford, from the early 17th century:

Map of Boston

... and this late 16th-century map of Boston: and you can now peruse all of this material at your leisure on the Internet.

Mendelssohn score

And if music is your particular interest, then you can examine this digital surrogate of an original Mendelssohn score ...

Mendelssohn notebooks

... or you can enjoy at your desktop, anywhere in the world, this electronic version of Mendelssohn's fascinating series of notebooks, in which the composer sketches himself playing the organ with Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's Consort, in the 1840s.

Ballads home page

Or, if early printed street ballads (or broadsides, as they're sometimes known) are of value to you in your research, you can come to this important Bodleian Web page, where you can search and call up the largest collection of such materials in the world.

Nelly Bly

You can call up broadsides like this one, for example, from the Crimean War period, when you could buy ballads like this in the streets for a penny.

Ballads Sound Files

And what's more: if you have the equipment on your desktop, and there's any musical notation on the Ballad, you can click on the relevant line, and hear for yourself, over the Internet, what the tune of the Ballad may have sounded like, as much as two or three hundred years or so ago...

Toyota City Transport Browser

Or, if you're interested in the history of transport, and you want access to the thousands of digitised images from our John Johnson Collection of printed ephemera, you only need to connect to this Bodleian Web page; and if you click on railways, you will soon find yourself admiring and poring over...

New York City elevated railway

... this fascinating image of the New York City elevated railway as it was in the late 1800s. (I'll leave the New York locals among you to work out exactly where this impressive piece of hardware may be today!)

Mellon Scoping Study Report

And the catalyst - the galvanising force - in all of this digital content creation which we are undertaking and planning in Oxford's libraries, is this report of a scoping study which has been generously funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation. The outcomes of this study, which reported last summer, have provided the libraries of the University with a blueprint and an outline strategic plan for the further large-scale development of digital library services in Oxford. In the autumn of 1999, we launched a major initiative which is designed to embed these electronic services into the core activities of the newly-integrated University Library system; and we are confident that these new developments, supported by the University, and by Foundations in the UK and North America, will enable us to continue to transform our library support for research and teaching even further.

Bodleian Shopping Arcade

And, yes, just in case you were wondering, we are also deeply into e-commerce in the library sector in Oxford; and we have plans to develop this part of the Bodleian Website even more, in order to reach into markets we never even dreamed of until now!

Sir Thomas Bodley

And, talking of dreams, I want to just reflect for a moment, before I close, on what the Bodleian Library's Founder would have thought about the Digital Revolution and all the huge changes which it's bringing into the Library which he established so long ago.

Well, I like to think that, although he would no doubt be completely staggered by what goes on in the Library today, almost four centuries after his death, he would certainly approve of our re-interpretation of his vision, since all that we're doing is designed to maintain the relevance, and the value, and the accessibility, of the institution on which he lavished his energy and his fortune.

And I'm sure that he would approve, too, of my final remarks; because I want to leave you with a famous quotation from the great English essayist and historian, Thomas Carlyle. But I want to modify one of his most famous sayings in the light of the Digital Revolution. "The true University of these days is a collection of books", is what Carlyle said in 1841. But in the year 2000, I think we can build on that, and go a lot further, by saying that, for us, in Oxford, "The true University of these days is a collection of books, manuscripts, archives, maps, music, multi-media, databases, and electronic information resources of every kind, which are integrated into a single manageable whole and are made available across the global networks". With apologies to Carlyle, then, that is our vision for the University library system in Oxford for the 21st century. So thank you all very much for allowing me to share that vision with you here today.

Title slide

I hope that you're in no doubt now that the Digital Revolution is already well and truly changing Oxford!

Reg Carr
New York
1 April 2000