When I think of the quintessential library, I inevitably think of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. During my first college spring break I ventured to London with two close friends. We had many eye-opening experiences in and around the city itself, but the last day of our trip we decided to take a bus to the countryside and explore Oxford. I remember the quaint cobbled lanes and alleyways that ran in to the countryside, the rolling hills, the pub known as the Eagle and the Child where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien used to meet up after teaching classes, to conduct their Inklings meetings, but most of all I recall the layer of magic that permeated the entire city. We wandered freely in and out of the gates of the schools, meandering in to sleepy courtyards and imagining all the different people that had passed through, and marked history over the last thousand years. It was truly bewitching.
Then of course there was the Bodleian. I was instantly enchanted by its grandeur, its secrets buried deep within its archives and its perfectly timeless reading room. This library’s collection is second in size only to the British Library. In fact the Bodleian served as the unofficial Library of England until the British Library was formally established in 1753. In 1610, Thomas Bodley (a well-to-do diplomat and scholar) made an agreement with the Stationer’s Company in London to keep a copy of every book they printed in his eponymous library at Oxford. This long standing order has continued over the centuries. Before any student is granted access to this collection of marvels and bookish delights, she must agree to a formal declaration:
I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, nor to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library, or kindle therein, any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library.
Part of the library might look familiar to you as it served as the location for the Hogwarts Library in the Harry Potter films. It also played an integral role in A Discovery of Witches, as Diana’s encounter with a mysterious manuscript in the Bodleian sets off a chain of events that lead her on the literary adventure of a lifetime. And while I personally haven’t run in to any demons, vampires, or witches off the page (that I’m aware of), my time in Oxford certainly left an imprint on me.