Rare Books

Sarah Wheale, from Rare Books, writes…

Mother GooseThe Rare Books Section of the Bodleian’s Special Collections cares for approximately one million early printed books and serials, and more than one million items of ephemera. The collections are among the largest anywhere in the world and we have been a legal deposit library since our first agreement with the Stationers’ Company in 1610.

We acquire, catalogue, manage and promote materials as diverse as civil war newspapers, Victorian novels, children’s books (from the very earliest to Harry Potter), incunables, epic poetry, chapbooks, ballads and zoological plate books. Our team comprises 6 full-time staff with particular subject expertise in 15th-century printing, classics, medieval history, English print culture and popular literature, children’s books, and printed ephemera, although given the depth and breadth of our collections we need to be able to turn our hands to anything.

Bodleian Rare Books SectionA typical day in our Section will include purchasing one or two early books or accepting a gift (some of which can run into several thousand items at a time); cataloguing recent purchases from our current backlog; answering reader enquiries, mostly via email; working on exhibitions and displays; showing materials to students, media crews or visitors; dealing with technical issues and training arising from ongoing work to improve our records in SOLO, the Bodleian’s library catalogue; preparing or giving presentations and seminars to a variety of groups, either on the books in our care or on getting the most out of the Library; managing or collaborating on projects, whether resource description, estates, fundraising or strategic planning; and day-to-day administration, which includes stamping, tidying and shelving. Two days are rarely the same which can make coming into the office thrilling.

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