Research at the Bodleian: A Guide

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A few summers ago, I wrote a guide to navigating London-area archives, as part of a roundtable The Junto published about research. I have updated that piece, but today, I wanted to share some thoughts on doing research at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford.

Using the Library

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As with most major research universities, Bodleian Libraries describes a system of multiple separate repositories (comprehensive list here). There are larger central ones, like Duke Humphrey and the Weston, some subject-specific ones, and Oxford’s individual also colleges have their own libraries. Most readers will probably find themselves either at the Weston Library or the Duke Humphrey’s. Access to these libraries requires applying for a Bodleian Reader’s Card if you are not already a member of the Oxford academic community. The process is not difficult, but you will need to fill out a form, explaining exactly what you need to use and why, and bring some documentation with you. In addition to proof of ID (passport, license, state-issued ID) and address (license, state-issued ID, utility bill), you will need to provide documentation of your affiliation and the duration thereof. You should bring with you, a student or faculty ID, and a signed letter, on departmental leader head from your department chair (if you are faculty or a post-doc) or dissertation/thesis supervisor (students). That letter must confirm your current affiliation, and determine how long you will remain affiliated with your university. You will sign in at the information desk, present your paperwork, go through a (usually quick) interview, and then have your picture taken for the ID. If English is your first language, you will also be asked to read their oath of conduct out loud (part 4 of the library regulations).

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Note that access to the Weston Library is normally free, but there may be a charge foraccess to the other libraries. You can find a schedule of fees here. The Weston does not have an online ordering system for documents, but you can email the special collections staff in advance to notify them of your visit and up to 6 requests. Retrieval will take a minimum of 2-3 hours for materials that are on site, and potentially a day for off-site materials. Once your reader’s card is activated, providing the staff with advanced notice may reduce your down time. You can find SOLO, the primary catalog here, or a link to the Weston Library’s Special Collections catalogs here.

As of 2017, there is a locker room just past admissions. Lockers require a returnable £1 coin to operate. There is a change machine by the end of the room, or for £2, you can purchase a Bodleian coin keychain in the gift shop that serves the same purpose. You may bring a laptop, charger, camera, pencils, and notebooks into the reading room. Many documents can be photographed with a camera though permission is required, and you must turn off both the flash and the camera noises on your phone or digital camera. There is a tea room located past security that sells tea, sandwiches, and basic snacks, and is open until about 3.45 pm.  It is less expensive than the cafeteria in the main lobby, but currently takes only cash. (Most cash points, or ATMs are located along High Street, or the Corner of High Street and Cornmarket St.)  The reading room is open from 8 am to 7 pm. (Closing bell rings at 6.45 pm)

Getting There

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The blue bus icons along A3214 indicate the locations of the X90 and Oxford Tube stops.

Many researchers will undoubtedly travel to Oxford by way of London. There are regular trains from Paddington Station in London, or you can take a bus from Victoria Coach Station. Either the X90 or the Oxford Tube bus services have frequent departures. I prefer the X90, which departs from a bus stop that is just about diagonal from the Victoria Coach Station. You can save money by using the train at off-peak hours, but the bus is about half the price of the train, and goes right into the same station. Expect the commute to take about 90 minutes. There is an affordable and easily navigable bus system in Oxford, but the city center is easily walkable from the train station. There is also a taxi rank outside of the station (cash only), featuring Black Cabs, or you can call Royal Cars Private Hire for a fraction of the price of a Black Cab. You must book a Royal Car for them to pick you up from the Station. As with London, only Black Cabs are licensed to pick up unscheduled passengers at the train station or on the street.

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The Weston Library is located on the corner of Broad and Park Street, right across from the “Old Bodley.” If you are staying outside of town, you will probably find it fastest to take the bus to the Queen’s Lane stop, then walk down Catte St, through the edge of Radcliffe Square. It is approximately a 10-minute walk. Note that rain is very common in the summer, and it can be gusty enough that umbrellas are of limited use. I recommend a good raincoat, and a waterproof cover for your laptop bag.

Accommodations

Hotels in Oxford tend to be pricey. Many of the Oxford Colleges will hire rooms in their dormitories if you are in the city outside of term. Search University Rooms Oxford for availability. Alternatively, there are a number of family-run guest houses along Iffley Road, about a 10-15 minute bus ride from city center. I recently stayed at the Acorn Guest House, which is clean, quite pleasant, and affordable. The Guest House is minutes from the Magdalen Rd bus stop (route 3), which gets you into town in under 10 minutes.  It has 8 rooms, and a single self-catering flat for rent. Book early, and go directly through their website. There is also a laundry service nearby. If you have kitchen access, there is both a Sainsbury’s and a couple of Tesco Metros near town. You can also find a Pret-a-Porter, and other relatively cheap eats along Cornmarket Street, or the Covered Market, though many places in Oxford close by 6 pm. There will still be a few restaurants open along High Street, including Quad (pricey) and Chaing Mai Kitchen (Thai).

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