The UK’s largest after the British Library in London, the Bodleian Library stores some 11 million book stacked up along almost 120 miles of shelves and growing fast – as one of the UK’s six legal deposit libraries, the Bodleian receives a copy of every work published in Britain.
The origins of the Bodleian go back to Duke Humfrey’s Library of 1488. The Bodleian proper was founded in 1602 by Thomas Bodley, initially occupying Duke Humfrey’s original library, although it grew so rapidly that the Old Schools Quadrangle was constructed between 1613 and 1618 to house the expanding collection. The library subsequently spread steadily outwards, occupying the Clarendon Building, Radcliffe Camera and finally the New Bodleian Library on Broad Street, built in the 1930s.
Tours of the Bodleian library
There are a variety of tours of the library, most centred on the Old Schools Quadrangle (including the Divinity School). Sixty-minute guided tours cover the Divinity School, Duke Humfrey’s Library and other parts of the Old Schools Quad, while there are also 30min tours visiting the Divinity School and Duke Humfrey’s Library. An extended tour adds visits to the Radcliffe Camera (the only way to get into the building for non-scholars) and the small medieval library of chained books in the Church of St Mary the Virgin. Tours are very popular, so it’s a good idea to arrive early on the day to reserve. Alternatively, there’s an audioguide that covers the quad and Divinity School.