Friday, June 10, 2011

Ode to an Oxford Library (or Ten)

Well, it's happened. I've visited the library for the last time. Yesterday I spent a good six hours split between the Sackler and the RadCam, and I was walking out realized with a pang that there was no reason for me to ever have to enter a library at this university again; the only three readings I have left between my last two papers are either online or in a book that I own. It was a bittersweet moment.

I've never been much of a library person. Oh, I certainly enjoy them, and love admiring a well-ordered bookshelf or a beautiful, Beauty and the Beast-style reading room. But I've never really used them before to the extent that I have at Oxford. My high school library was depressing except for one reading room where my friends and I would occasionally hang out to 'work on group projects' (which really meant sitting around updating the campus gossip blog that we ran... and I wish I was joking), but I can honestly say that I probably never even checked out more than a dozen books in my entire time there. There weren't many research papers (and the one big one I did write, our junior year US history paper extravaganza, was on a topic--the architectural history of Atlantic City--too obscure for my school's resources) and for regular papers rarely had to look outside the class's required book list.

At Stanford, I've obviously had to use the resources of the library more often, but since there's an unlimited book checkout policy, I've almost always chosen to take the books out and use them in my own room. Actual study in the library has been restricted to 'big events,' like studying for finals or completing my PWR 2 paper.

But now at Oxford, I've become a library regular. I've really had no choice, because we aren't allowed to check books out, but I've been surprised at how much I've come around to the lib life. Sure, it may still take some serious self-motivating to get up to the Japanese Library way up on Banbury Rd (a good 20+ minute walk, even at my brisk pace), but the quiet solitude and internet-free ability to concentrate have been wonderful.

As a tribute, I thought I'd run down the different libraries I've called home over the past 6 months:

The Sackler

(I used to find the rolling stack system really novel because there's only one library at Stanford that uses it - then I found out pretty much every library at Ox uses it AND it can be a huge pain when you have to unroll like fifteen stacks to get one tiny paperback that you're going to read three pages out of. But it's cool, there's still the added excitement of getting squished and the added fun of moving things)

(Friends and lovers)

(The Sackler on a happening Friday night)

(Ironically, the Sackler was my library of choice for both Ancient Sumerian Studies AND Modern Art - talk about a broad spread!)

(The Sackler as I said goodbye to it yesterday afternoon, looking exactly as it did that first day in January - so long, friend!)

This has been the library that I've had to go to more than any other, probably at least once a week since Week 1 Hilary Term, way back in January. It's the Ancient Studies/Art library, located on the back of the Ashmolean, and while I can't say I find it the most beautiful (it's circular which means I always get lost and has ver few windows and sort of industrial feel), I certainly feel the most at home there now. Plus, while the walk is pretty far, it's a perfect excuse to go from there up to the Big Bang for awesome post-studying bangers and mash =)

Radcliffe Camera

(I'd put a strong bet that this is probably the most photographed building in Oxford - I've certainly taken probably 50 pictures of it since I've been here!)

(Busy and studious)

(The stacks give the different studied area a nicely cloistered feel)

(From that one Friday night where I was legit one of three people there)

This building is probably one of the more iconic in Oxford, and certainly has one of the more lavish reading rooms I've been to. It's nice and very studious feeling, and is definitely my favorite place to send books from the Bodleian bookstack when I have to order them, but it's almost always packed (except for that one cool kid night when I was there at 9pm on a Friday...) and so it can be stressful to find a seat. Still, very cool, and it feels very official to walk through the gates posted with the NO VISITORS signs (which are usually surrounded by tourists trying to peek in) and up the walk to the building.

Social Science Library

(Modern architecture ftw)

Everyone from the Stanford program hates this library, but I have to admit I'm kind of a fan. It's very 'modern,' but has a lot of light and big comfy chairs to sit in. Since I hate sitting at desks, this in itself is enough to put the SSL pretty high on the list.

Japanese Library

(Worth the hike)

(Hmmm... probably not the most helpful books for me per se)

(The nice, quiet cozy reading area, with lots of natural light and a view out on the garden)

I only discovered this library a few weeks ago, and I have to say it might be my favorite one. It's small, not crowded, and very quiet, and has a lovely view out onto a flower garden from the ground floor windows. It's the furthest away, but I love how peaceful and serene it is. Plus the things I've read about there have been pretty fascinating (the battle of Midway and the fall of Singapore), which alway helps the time go faster!

Rhodes House Library

I've only been here once and had a slightly annoying experience. It seems like a nice enough library, but there's little about that makes it much more special than any other reading room, and it's far away and has a really bothersome semi-open shelf system where it's really hard to know what you're going to find on the shelf and what you have to get ordered. Boo.

Continuing Education Library

Soul-sucking, windowless basement, outfitted with uncomfortable chairs and outmoded furniture? Check, check, check, and check. Seriously, it's pretty depressing. There's an upstairs reading room that's a bit better, but the people there always frown at my laptop (even though there are no signs to the contrary) so I never fell very comfortable.

History Library

I don't have any pictures of this one but I wish I did because it's pretty beautiful, with big windows looking out over little courtyard gardens, the King's Arms, and Broad St. I only got to go twice, but liked it immensely both times.

The Bodleian Reserve

My least favorite library: big, crowded, full of people who are ready to glare at you if you so much as scuff the floor with your chair as you're trying to sit down, and not anywhere near beautiful enough to merit such uppityness. I only ever go there when I've maxed out my reserves in the RadCam, which mercifully has only happened twice all winter and spring.

American Library

(Such big windows!!)

(Private study carols = awesome)

This one is a close second to the Japanese Library in terms of a favorite of mine. It's got cool architecture, nice private study carols, and enormous windows that look out on a beautiful English garden. It's a little bigger and busier than the Japanese library, and so feel just a smidge less cozy, but it's pretty awesome.

Corpus Christi College Library

(Classic Ox)

Technically my 'home' library, but it feels weird calling it that because I almost never go. CCC has very few books that are very useful to me, and so I didn't go very often. I did always enjoy it when I did, though, as it definitely had the most traditional "old library" feel of them all, right down to the 17th century vintage oak study carols. I especially enjoyed studying there when the organist was practicing, as the chapel is right next to the library and the sound would come through. It felt like I could be all the way back in the early 1600s again when the library was first founded.

So there you go! The incredible thing, of course, is that these libraries are but a small fraction of those offered at the University. I think it could honestly take a lifetime to get to know them all! All right, I've officially done nothing useful today, so perhaps I should try to get a little work done before the day has completely run away with me...

(The last book I ever called up from reserve, a cool treatise on British Modernism)

1 comment:

  1. Cool blog with nice pics- thanks for posting.
    Will be library-hopping this term!