Guest blog post by ZSR Ambassador Hope Nitsche (’25)

Along with exploring London, I have made an effort during my semester to take trips to other places in the United Kingdom. One of these places I visited was Oxford University, one of the top universities in the world. I had heard good things about the library, notably the Old Bodleian Library. I knew that it was old and that I could get a tour of it during my trip to Oxford. I was excited to get to step into a piece of library history, and I was not disappointed.

Before going to the Old Library, I walked past the Radcliffe Camera, one of the more iconic buildings on Oxford’s campus. It was built between 1737 and 1749 with money donated to the English physician Dr. John Radicliffe. It was once the science library of the university, but as its collection grew and grew, it became the main reading room of the Bodleian Library. I was unable to go in, as it was reserved for university students, but I loved seeing the gorgeous architecture and imagining all of the books inside.

Hope Nitsche standing in front of Radcliffe Camera.
In front of the Radcliffe Camera.

I was able to get a tour of Duke Humphey’s Library and the Divinity School. We met for the tour in the Divinity school building, the hall in which the Divinity students had their oral examinations. These exams were rigorous and consisted of hours of professors quizzing their students on the spot. Hearing this made me glad for my written exams and essays here at Wake.

picture of reading room in Duke Humphrey’s Library.
Harry Potter fans will recognize this room as the Hospital wing in the movies– This is where those scenes of the movies were filmed.

When I entered Duke Humphrey’s Library, I was in awe. It was probably the most beautiful room I had ever seen. It was a medieval library full of Latin and Greek texts. We weren’t allowed to get too close to the books as there was a motion-activated alarm in the wall. The books in Duke Humphrey’s Library today include the 281 titles that made up the original library in 1488. Before that Oxford had no formal library. Today, the library has more books than they know what to do with, which is all thanks to one man: the namesake of the libraries, Sir Thomas Bodley.

In 1610 Bodley, who refurbished the original medieval library, made an agreement with the Stationers Company of London to receive a copy of every book that was published in England and registered within their hall. This agreement is still in effect to this day, which is how the Bodleian Libraries have a collection of over 13 million printed items. I learned that Oxford has to keep building more libraries and places to store all of its books, but each new building they make fills up quickly.

The newest addition to the Bodleian Libraries, the Weston Library, built in 2015

Overall, I loved my time at Oxford. We don’t have cities as old as the Bodleian in America and we certainly don’t have libraries that old. Seeing it in person really put into perspective how old some of the stories that we interact with are, such as the texts of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. They have been around before the Bodleian was founded, as they were included in the books that were in the old library. I love any opportunity to go and see old books, so I am very glad I included the Bodleian Library in my study abroad experience.