Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Oxford II: Christ Church Library

Christ Church Quadrangle
The Christ Church College Library was opened in 1772, with a special emphasis on music.  The first building to house the library was the cathedral, where part of its cloister was used for storing books.  The current library was built to accommodate the collections growth, and to provide a custom built site adequate for the library.  The old rooms in the cloister were converted into tutorial rooms.

The collection has diversified through the generous and large donations from individual patrons.  The Austin Collection contains 7-8,000 titles, focusing on theology and Divinity.  The Wake Collection, occupies one whole wall of the library, and contains many archival items.  Wake also donated a large collection of coins and non-book materials.  The Orrery Collection focuses on the natural sciences.  Orrery donated many scientific instruments and artifacts along with his books.  As a result of having such large and specialized collections the library has chosen a unique classification system.  The library is not organized by subject but rather by collection.  This approach was taken both to keep the donor’s collection intact to show their personal interests and reading habits, and to ease retrievability by not having to completely rearrange everything.

part of the Wake Collection
The physical library building just went though a two year renovation process and recently reopened to the public.  Right now the librarians are working on creating a systematic and integrated catalog.  The collections contain over 100,000 Early Printed Volumes (pre-1800).  2/3 of these books are in the online catalog, but not all.  The library holds over 1,300 music manuscripts and scores, and over 700 general manuscripts including 500 in Roman script, 86 Byzantium, 40 Hebrew, and a scattering of other languages.  All of the music scores have electronic catalog records.  Part of the Roman manuscript collection is in the online catalog, but the other languages have not yet been started.  All the modern titles have been added to the online catalog, but the backlog is still quite extensive.  There is still much work to be done, but the librarians have been making good progress.

Some of the restored details on wall and ceiling
One of the interesting facts from this tour was that we learned that Lewis Carroll was a fellow at Christ Church.  He was an avid photographer and the library had a special exhibit on him, which we were able to view.  He was also a sub-librarian, and the staff is still speculating on which office would have been his.  I enjoyed this tour and was glad we added it to the schedule.  The unique classification system was interesting to learn about.  Many of the libraries that we have visited have unique non-traditional systems; which I was surprised by.  Most of us were used to seeing Dewey or Library of Congress systems, but to see libraries organized strictly by size (to conserve as much space as possible) or by collection (to ensure integrity of the donor’s books) was really interesting to see put into practice.

Detailed history of the college and library: http://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/library/history

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