A bit of William Morris and more Bodleian

My appointment at the Oxford Student Union Library was in the morning yesterday, so I arrived at the iron gates at the appointed time and rang the buzzer. Sue the librarian answered and buzzed me in, then met me in the hall. The building is stunningly beautiful on the outside, at least for those who like Victorian architecture which, as it happens, I do.


I’m not sure why, but I had not expected the inside to be stunning too. Sue handed me the volumes of H.G. Wells’ Text-book in Biology, and said I could look at them in the library room (they buzz you in there too). For a few minutes I was almost too distracted to look at the book.

0623170933aBut the volumes were wonderful, and show why it’s a bad idea to use online translations to examine books. I have a Project Gutenburg version of these books, but they gave me no sense of scale. The books are wonderfully small – they can be carried in a jacket pocket or bag. Also, the illustrations fold out, which you cannot tell online. Plus, unlike online versions, all the ads are in the back of the actual book – wonderful ads for the University Correspondence College, which I’d mentioned to Sue on the phone I was hoping would be there.  I was so enchanted that I completely missed something. See it at the top of my photo above?


Well, I didn’t see it. So having photographed pages from the textbooks, including adding some items for scale (see right), I went out to return them and asked about the pre-Raphaelite murals. Was it possible to view them during the school holiday? She gave me the hours, which included the hour I was there, so I asked if I could see them now. Yes, but it’s £1.50, she said apologetically. I paid at the desk and asked where the murals were. How they kept a straight face I don’t know, but they pointed me back into the room where I had just been. The woman at the desk told me that they were hard to see from the ground, and to go up the stairs to the gallery. I laughed and said scholars are so busy looking down, we don’t see what’s around us!

117408870f2f1bdd63968943dcff7ea7The murals are actually very much darkened, but the ceiling is wonderful, because William Morris did it wrong the first time and had to re-do it. However, they had asked that I not photograph (oops, didn’t mean to), so here is someone else’s photo off Pinterest… ->

With no more excuse for being in this fabulous building, I said goodbye, and returned to the Bodleian at 11, when my Educational Times journal came in. I felt a fool as I looked through it and realized I’d committed the classic scholar’s mistake: getting the citation wrong. What the article I’d found had said was that an interview with William Briggs was in the journal Education, not Educational Times, September 1890. It took me quite awhile to find that journal in the online catalog, since the name was so common. Knowing I’d have no time to return the next day, I requested it as “scan and deliver” and hoped for the best (if you request early in the day, sometimes you can get it emailed to you same day).

Realizing this scan and deliver thing was going to be invaluable, and wanting to continue it from the U.S., I went back to the Weston Library and asked to extend the term of my Readers Card. At first they asked me to fill out an application again (it’s very long), but I said I’d gotten it just a few days ago. We both laughed when we realized I’d gotten it the day before. I explained I’m pretty tired from working so hard. Plus London and Oxford have both been in a heat wave that just broke, so everyone is cross. I got my term extended for a year, then at 4 pm the article came in. Another disappointment – the article was the exact same interview that Briggs himself reprinted in the Prospectus I saw at the British Library. Oh well….