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Inside the Bodleian Library's storehouse
IN front of you is a book entitled Iron Uptake and Homeostasis in Micro-organisms.
It’s on a shelf as tall as a three-storey house and as long as a row of half a dozen such houses. There’s an identical shelf behind you and dozens more in a room whose floorspace could swallow more than one and a half football pitches.
A corridor of books marches mindbendingly away in either direction, toward what your art teacher told you was called the Vanishing Point.
The next book along from Iron Uptake and Homeostasis in Micro-organisms is the Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Pig Reproduction, which was held in Missouri in June of 2001. The volume doesn’t detail the delegates’ breakfast buffet but you have a feeling it was heavy on the bacon and sausages.
Next to that book is the September 10, 2011 issue of Amateur Photographer magazine and next along again you see a brightly illustrated primary school reading book called Silly Squirrel.
At that point you wake in an overheated tangle of 4am duvet and vow never again to eat cheese and crackers at bedtime – unless you happen to be wide awake already and standing in the Bodleian Library’s Book Storage Facility in South Marston. Even then, you’ll still feel as if you’re in a dream.
The Adver was given a guided tour by general manager Boyd Rodger and operations manager Lindsay Fairns. Like all who work for the 410-year-old Oxford University library or have access to its volumes, they’ve signed a vow: “I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, or to mark, injure or deface in any way, any volume, document, or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library or kindle therein any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library.”
Completed in late 2010, the £26m computerised and climate-controlled building began receiving books, journals and maps almost immediately. There are 153.5 miles of shelves, each more than 30 feet tall and accessed by a total of 31 aisles. The 129,900 sqare feet of floor took eight days to lay with 280 truckloads of concrete.
Asked which aspect of his team’s work made him most proud, Boyd said: “It’s the speed at which we were able to get books here. In September of 2010 the shelves were all empty, and from October of 2010 to January of 2012 we got over 7.5 million books here – and 1.2 million maps.”
The storage facility was built to relieve pressure on the Bodleian’s buildings in Oxford and houses items less frequently demanded by researchers, students and academics than those retained in Oxford. Nevertheless, items are still demanded at the rate of more than 5,000 a week. Thanks to a system of bar-codes on items, boxes and shelves, and staff using giant motorised platforms, these items are gathered and transported in large batches along the A420 within hours of being requested.
The Bodleain is also one of a handful of Legal Deposit libraries, with which publishers are obliged to lodge on request a copy of each item they produce. Somewhere among the rows are bound volumes of the Swindon Advertiser and just about every other British newspaper of the last 200 years or so. The oldest items are from the 1600s; the more recent are from right now. There is room at South Marston for another two decades’ worth.
But surely the growth of digital media means print is becoming obsolete? Lindsay Fairns smiles at this notion. “We’re still getting 150,000 to 170,000 new items per year, so it doesn’t seem to be slowing down so much.”