Seven things you (probably) didn’t know about Oxford’s libraries

In the early 1400s, Oxford University’s entire library could probably have fitted into a single chest. Today, we can 3D-print a bird sternum for you.

Duke Humfrey’s Library | Photograph by Vinesh Rajpaul (DPhil Astrophysics)

1. It would take the keenest reader more than 600 lifetimes to get through all the books in the Bodleian (at the rate of one per day)

A more average reader, getting through about 200 books in a lifetime, would need 59,999 more lifetimes to finish.

(You can check the working on this in Charles Chu’s essay on how many books you can read in a lifetime).

2. When you join the Bodleian Library as a reader, you swear — in your native language — never to set fire to it

You can also buy the oath on a (probably flammable) tea towel in the gift shop.

3. The Radcliffe Science Library offers 3D scanning and printing for students and staff

Since 2015, the RSL has printed over 1,160 items for staff and students with its Makerbot Replicator 2. They’ve printed GPS collars for Ethiopian dogs, prosthetic hands for amputees in Sierra Leone, a full replica cast gallery of Classical sculptures in miniature and a whole range of other teaching aids and useful objects.

Check out what the RSL has printed so far and how to request objects on the Library Guide website.

A few of the 1,160 3D printed objects produced by the Radcliffe Science Library | @bodleianlibs on Instagram

4. The number of readers in the Bodleian Libraries is nearly 100 times higher today than in 1945

In 1602, the Bodleian had 248 readers. There were 700 in 1945, and by 2014 there were 64,242.

5. The gate in the new Weston Library is inscribed with the phrase ‘Si bonus es intres, si nequam ne quaquam’ (‘If you are good, enter. If wicked, by no means’)

The ornamental Ascott Gate was salvaged from the Dorner family estate, destroyed by fire in 1662.

6. The Divinity School in the Bodleian Library is the oldest room in the University

This medieval building was built in the 1400s to house lectures, oral examinations and discussions on theology.

If you follow us on Facebook you might already know this, so we’ll just add that this also makes it the oldest surviving purpose-built part of any university.

Bonus fact!

You might recognise the distinctive fan vaulting or floor-to-ceiling windows from the Harry Potter films, X-Men, The Golden Compass or The History Boys — amongst others.

The Divinity School standing in as the Infirmary for films in the Harry Potter series

7. The underground Gladstone Link library was named after a British Prime Minister, William Gladstone, who designed the shelves

Gladstone, an Oxford graduate himself, came up with the idea for the original rolling shelves and the refurbished link was named in his honour.


The University has over 100 libraries and collections — ancient ones and brand new ones, enormous ones and tiny specialist ones — with a huge role to play in Oxford’s world-class support to its students and staff. Start your exploration on the Bodleian Libraries website, Twitter or Facebook.

The salvaged Elizabethan arch in the Weston Library | @oxfordgradstudy on Instagram

Additional sources for this article: Oxford Today and the Bodleian Libraries on Instagram and Twitter.