Oxford Library Enters the Digital Age

OXFORD, England — The University of Oxford completed a roughly $120 million (£80 million) renovation of its library in March. The new Weston Library, part of the Bodleian Libraries system, was designed to serve as a space for old books while also bringing the historic facility into the digital age.

The renovation project transformed the building once known as the New Bodleian into a multimedia space with an exhibition hall, lecture theater, digital-ready classrooms, conservation and imaging workshops, office space, a café and reading rooms. The facility is made up of six aboveground stories with three underground stacks, reported Harvard Magazine, and was designed by London-based Wilkinson Eyre Architects.

Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s librarian since 2014, told Harvard Magazine that the main goal of the project was to create “better interactions between manuscript archives, rare books and people.” As such, the library doesn’t look like a traditional library at first glance. Its large atrium greets visitors with the same grand statement that a museum would. A glass-walled circle of stacks floats above the entrance hall, and walls feature two 70-inch Samsung touch-screen displays.

The two exhibition galleries allow visitors to see some of the library’s historic archives, rather than hiding them from view as in the past. For instance, the Treasury will house university treasures such as the Magna Carta and Gutenberg Bible, on the First Folio on semi-permanent display, according to Harvard Magazine. The other exhibition gallery will house special exhibitions.

While visitors are able to interact with these exhibitions, there is a notable division between public and research spaces. Once allowed access, scholars can take advantage of the library’s new reading rooms that open up level by level. This section of the library also incorporates teaching spaces such as the lecture theater and five seminar rooms.

The renovation was partially funded with generous donations from a number of donors. The largest was about $37 million (£25 million) from the Garfield Weston Foundation — hence the name change to Weston Library — which was matched by Oxford University Press. Another about $7.5 million (£5 million) was gifted to the project by Julian Blackwell, president of Blackwell’s and whose Oxford store sits adjacent to the Weston Library site. This additional funding allowed the development of the Blackwell Hall, the library’s new entrance hall.