LibrarySights and activitiesBodleian Library

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The Bodleian Library is one of Europe’s oldest libraries. It is the main research library at the University of Oxford and Britain’s second-largest library, after the British Library.

It is one of many libraries at the University of Oxford and it is the largest of the 28 Bodleian Libraries at Oxford.

Dating from 1602, the library has been the focus of university life for four centuries and former Oxford students who have studied here include famous historical figures as diverse as Sir Christopher Wren, Dr Samuel Johnson, Robert Hooke, Edmund Halley, William Penn, Jethro Tull (the agriculturalist, not the rock band), Cecil Rhodes, Oscar Wilde, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Stephen Hawking and Nigella Lawson plus kings, prime ministers and the leaders of more than 10 different countries.

What to see at the Bodleian Library

The Bodleian Library is comprised of five buildings near Broad Street at the northeastern end of the city centre.

Exhibitions at the Weston Library

Like other major English libraries, such as the British Library or the John Rylands Library, the Bodleian Library is home to many rare and notable books and manuscripts and there is an exhibition space that displays highlights from the library’s collection.

The library’s treasures include many rare documents including the Vernon Manuscript (the most important surviving text written in Middle English), William Shakespeare’s First Folio, the first book printed in Arabic and one of only 21 surviving copies of the Gutenberg Bible.

These exhibitions are mostly housed in the publicly-accessible parts of the Weston Library, which is one of the newer parts of the Bodleian Library complex.

Exploring the library complex

While many areas of the Bodleian Library are only accessible to students and other people with a valid library card, there are some parts of the library complex that are open to the general public.

The main entrance to the library is known as the Tower of the Five Orders, so named because of its unusual architectural style that features five columns, one for each of the five orders of classical architecture: Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite.

Visitors are also free to wander around the library’s 17th-century School’s Quadrangle (also known as the Old Library).
You are able to visit Blackwell Hall, the atrium area of the Weston Library, which has a small exhibition space plus a cafe and gift shop as well as two exhibition rooms inside the Weston Library building.

It is also possible to visit the 15th-century Divinity School.

The Divinity School

The Divinity School, which featured in the first two Harry Potter films as Hogwarts’ hospital wing, is the starting point of most tours of the Bodleian.

Built between 1427 and 1483, this building predates the library and it is noted for its fan-vaulted ceiling. This medieval room is the university’s oldest teaching and examination hall.

The Divinity School at the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford in Oxford, Oxfordshire (Photo: John Lord [CC BY-SA 2.0])
The Divinity School at the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford in Oxford, Oxfordshire (Photo: John Lord [CC BY-SA 2.0])

Duke Humfrey’s Library

Duke Humfrey’s Library is the medieval reading room that is located on the first floor above The Divinity School.

Duke Humfrey’s Library featured in the Harry Potter films as the library at Hogwarts.

This library is named after Humphrey of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Gloucester, the brother of Henry V and youngest son of Henry IV. Upon his death in 1447, Duke Humfrey bequeathed his collection of 281 manuscripts to the university and this collection became the foundation for the library, although only three of the original books remain at the library.

It is a magnificent room with carved beams, an ornate ceiling and shelf-upon-shelf of centuries-old books.

Duke Humfrey’s Library is only accessible as part of a guided tour.

The interior of Duke Humfrey's Library at the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford in Oxford, Oxfordshire (Photo: David Iliff [CC BY-SA 3.0])
The interior of Duke Humfrey’s Library at the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford in Oxford, Oxfordshire (Photo: David Iliff [CC BY-SA 3.0])

Convocation House

The 17th-century Convocation House is the lower floor of an addition made to the Divinity School that was originally known as Selden End.

During Charles II’s reign, Convocation House served as a base for the royalist members of parliament. This part of the library is noted for its vaulted ceiling that dates from 1758–59.

Convocation House is only accessible as part of a guided tour.

The interior of Convocation House at the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford in Oxford, Oxfordshire (Photo: David Iliff [CC BY-SA 3.0])
The interior of Convocation House at the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford in Oxford, Oxfordshire (Photo: David Iliff [CC BY-SA 3.0])

Visiting the Bodleian Library

Although you can wander around parts of the library, most people recommend taking a tour to see the library complex in more depth.

Exhibitions at the Weston Library

The Weston Library on the northern side of Broad Street has two exhibitions rooms plus another exhibition space in Blackwell Hall.

Blackwell Hall and the Weston Library exhibition galleries are open every day and entry is free of charge.

The exhibition spaces at the Weston Library are fully wheelchair-accessible.

There is a cafe inside the Weston Library, which is run by Benugo (who seem to operate a lot of museum cafes) and both the Weston Library and the older Bodleian Library building have gift shops.

Self-guided tours of the Bodleian Library

Self-guided visits to the Bodleian Library let you visit the external quadrangles and the 15th-century Divinity School.

An audio tour (£2.50) gives you a good introduction to the library providing background information about the quadrangles and the Divinity School. A visit to the Divinity School without an audio guide costs £1.

The Divinity School is wheelchair accessible.

The audio tour takes 40 minutes. Without an audio tour, a visit to the Divinity School only takes 10 minutes.

Tours of the Bodleian Library

In addition to publicly-accessible areas in the library, there are several popular tours that take you to parts of the library not normally accessible to the public.

There are three different guided tours: a 30-minute tour, a 60-minute tour and a 90-minute tour.

The 30-minute tour costs £6 and takes in both the Divinity School and Duke Humfrey’s Library. This tour operates Monday to Saturday 12.30pm, 3.30pm, 4pm and 4.40pm and Sundays at 12.45pm, 2.15pm, 2.45pm, 3.15pm, 4pm and 4.40pm.

The 60-minute tour costs £9 and takes in the Divinity School, Convocation House, Chancellor’s Court and Duke Humfrey’s Library. This tour operates Monday to Saturday 10.30am, 11.30pm, 1pm and 2pm and Sundays at 11.30am, 2pm and 3pm.

The 90-minute tour also includes the nearby Radcliffe Camera. This tour costs £15 and includes the Divinity School, Convocation House, Chancellor’s Court, Duke Humfrey’s Library, Gladstone Link and Radcliffe Camera. It operates Wednesday and Saturday at 9.15am and Sundays at 11.15am and 1.15pm.

Tour lengthWhat you seePriceTour times
30 minute tourDivinity School
Duke Humfrey's Library
£6Mon–Sat 12.30pm, 3.30pm, 4pm, 4.40pm
Sun 12.45pm, 2.15pm, 2.45pm, 3.15pm, 4pm, 4.40pm
60 minute tourDivinity School
Convocation House
Chancellor's Court
Duke Humfrey's Library
£9Mon–Sat 10.30am, 11.30am, 1pm, 2pm
Sun 11.30am, 2pm, 3pm
90 minute tourDivinity School
Convocation House
Chancellor's Court
Duke Humfrey's Library
Gladstone Link
Radcliffe Camera
£15Wed 9.15am
Sat 9.15am
Sun 11.15am, 1.15pm

These three guided tours are not wheelchair accessible as they involve stairs.

Guided tours are only available in English.

Children aged 10 and under are not permitted on guided tours.

Tickets for these tours can be purchased online up to two weeks in advance or on the day at the Great Gate ticket office.

Amenities
  • Free Wi-Fi
  • Wheelchair access
  • Guided tours (paid)
  • Audio tour (paid)
  • Cafe/restaurant
  • Gift shop

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