Thursday, July 21, 2011


Christ Church guide in
front of the tree that is
the Jabberwocky.
Oxford has a rich literary history. Many authors we all know and some we love found Oxford to be an excellent location for inspiration and rumination. A few such authors include Oscar Wilde, J.R.R Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll. Dodgson actually spent much of his life at Christ Church teaching mathematics. It was Dean Liddle's daughters (Alice in particular) who inspired the tale Alice in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass. 

Oxford is also home to the Bodleian Library housed at the University of Oxford. Listening to our guide, I was reminded of a class in my undergrad, Technology of the Book. For this class, I read The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petroski.  It includes information I saw examples of today, like books originally being chained to the shelves. In the early days, they were irreplaceable so extreme measures were taken to ensure that they remained in the library. (I wonder if this would work with our DVDs). Petroski's work is fascinating if you're at all interested in the evolution of libraries and, more specifically, books and how they relate to the shelves. I particularly love this passage:
The bookcase without a full complement of books is like a daydreaming student's notebook, its lines half filled with substances and half with space. The half-filled bookshelf is also half empty, of course, with leaning left and right to form M's, N's, V's, and W's to fill the voids between clusters of vertical and not-so-vertical I's. (Petroski).
Another great book on this subject is Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles.

Radcliffe Camera at
Oxford University
Radcliffe Camera is another interesting part of Oxford University Libraries because it was the first round library. Visiting the reading room takes you back in time while remaining in the present. The architecture and the desks are all quite old, yet around the room were all the details of a modern library. Scrap paper for scribbling call numbers, information on databases Oxford has to offer, and fliers posted with need-to-know information. Libraries serve similar functions no matter where they are. While visiting this academic reading room, I was reminded of the first floor of my library at home.

To cap the day, many of us found ourselves at The Eagle and the Child pub, where we relaxed with a pint and hoped to soak up some literary genius. The Eagle and Child was a hangout of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien. I don't know if my writing has gotten any better, but it had an enjoyable atmosphere and delicious cider.

One of the many small doors in the
Christ Church gardens.

Petroski, H. (2004). The book on the bookshelf. New York, NY: Random House.

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