merton college chapel

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Who was Bodley?

You may have noticed we have a strange name: The Bodleian Libraries.

We have it because we were originally founded by the man above, Thomas Bodley, who lived from 1545-1613CE. 

After his retirement from diplomacy in 1597 he decided to ‘refound’ the Library at Oxford, which since 1410 had been neglected and its best books pillaged and burnt during the Reformation. Using his own and his wife Ann’s fortune he commissioned agents to travel across Europe in search of appropriate books with which to stock his new library. He also used his diplomatic skills to persuade friends and acquaintances to give books or manuscripts from their own collections, or money to buy books. The quality of these founding gifts established Bodley’s Library as a major centre for scholarly research and their range ensured that it would never be limited in the studies it supported. By 8 November 1602, he judged the collection large enough, at about 2,000 volumes, for the Library to be formally opened. 

Sir Thomas died on 28 January 1613 and was buried with much ceremony in Merton College Chapel on 29 March. His will provided the endowment which was essential for the survival of the Library, while his zeal in encouraging others to support it with gifts set a pattern for succeeding generations. His vision of a library serving not only Oxford but the whole scholarly world has defined the Bodleian’s role as a university, national, and international library for over four hundred years.

To this day, the head Librarian is known as Bodley’s Librarian.