Inevitably, the majority of my final year at Oxford was spent in libraries. So I made it my mission to explore as many of them as possible – faculty libraries, college libraries and university libraries, we really are spoilt for choice at Oxford! This is a list of just 8 that I really loved and think are the best libraries in Oxford, but there are many, many more out there that remain unexplored by me. So here’s a peak inside eight of Oxford University’s most beautiful libraries:
Radcliffe Camera (1749)
I thought I’d start with the most iconic library in all of Oxford. It’s really Rad. Sorry, I had to. It’s lame, I know. The Radcliffe Camera, known to students as the Rad Cam, is the central library to the university. The iconic round exterior is a big hit with the tourists and you’ll usually find the square around it flooded with groups of them. Thankfully the tourists aren’t usually allowed inside so it’s remains a quiet place to work for students all over Oxford. It’s situated between Brasenose and All Souls, two other colleges mentioned on this list.
Christ Church (1562)
Magnificent both inside and out, Christ Church library is one of my all-time favourites (not biased or anything). It is an absolutely enormous building in the beautiful Peckwater quad. The upstairs and the downstairs are two very different floors, with the upstairs section holding the special collections. Stand just one centimetre too close to the stacks of old books and you’ll set the alarm off. The upper section is only open to finalists so I guess there are some perks to drowning in finals fear.
Over the last year they’ve started adding a large number of general fiction books, which isn’t all that common with college libraries. Most tend to be filled with books for academic use with a couple of general fiction ones thrown in. These large armchairs were also installed which are great for curling up if you want some peace and quiet, surrounded by books.
Duke Humphrey’s Library, The Bodleian (1480)
The Duke Humprhrey’s library may be more familiar to you as “The Harry Potter Library” in Oxford. This part of the Bodleian library was used in the Harry Potter films, which makes it very special to a Potterhead like me! As the books in this section are so old and precious, the room is usually kept pretty dark and the wifi is not particularly strong so it’s a great place to go if you want to hole yourself up with your books, much like Harry in the restricted section!
For more Harry Potter locations in Oxford, check out my Oxford Harry Potter tour here!
The Old Library, Oxford Union (1879)
The Union Library in Oxford is only accessible by Union members (though if the door has been left open, non-members could just walk right in). It is one of the only libraries in Oxford that stocks a decent amount of general fiction available for students to borrow, which is why it’s one of my favourites. A lot of my friends abandoned reading for pleasure when they got to Oxford and many didn’t realise that there was a resource like this available to them. This is also where I came to find translated versions of my French texts (shh).
Buying membership of the Oxford Union comes at a hefty price but it gives you lifetime access to this institution. On the whole this library is fairly peaceful but at peak times seats can fill up. Around the room there are several leather armchairs which I’ve noticed a lot of old Union members like to come back and read the daily paper in, which is rather sweet.
Codrington Library, All Souls (1751)
Access to All Souls library is sought after by many Oxford students but not granted to many. Mostly because people seem to be under the impression that it’s very difficult to gain access, when in fact you just need a reference from your tutor. I sorely regret only managing to visit this library in my last week at Oxford as it is a very spacious library where you can work peacefully with a huge amount of space between you and the next desk. Perfect when you just want to be a hermit for the day. It’s the sort of space where you think you should be writing with a quill and ink, not typing away on a macbook.
Brasenose Library (1664)
This is one of my post liked pictures on Instagram and it was taken in about 4 seconds when I quickly ducked my head into Brasenose library. This library is much cosier than the others featured on this page but the ceiling is just so gorgeous, I had to feature it! In between each row of shelves there’s a desk where students can sit and study. Although it’s not very spacious, it does afford the students a lot of privacy, which is a huge plus if you have the attention span of a gnat like me. Would you have guessed this space holds approximately 55,000 titles?
Lincoln Library (1975)
I spent a large part of my fourth year trying to find someone who could take me into this library. Once I managed to sneak in past the first gate but then when I got inside the library doors, I saw you needed some sort of pass to get in – I was gutted! So the photo below was originally taken by fellow Oxford ‘grammer, @musingsofemma! This library is absolutely enormous and the high ceilings and grand architecture make it one of the most impressive in all of Oxford. It’s actually housed in All Saints Church, an eighteenth century building.
Taylor Institution Library (1845)
Last but by no means least is the Taylorian, which is the Modern Languages Faculty library. This is where I spent a large part of my final year and I definitely didn’t appreciate just how beautiful this room was until it was nearly time to leave. Modern Languages are very fortunate to have such a wonderful library as some of the other faculty libraries I’ve been in have been .. less than inspiring. There are many study rooms within the faculty but this large study space is everybody’s favourite. There’s a spiral staircase leading up to another floor where there are 6 window seats, which are highly sought after by finalists in Trinity term. People actually queue for these seats before 9am on weekdays.
Et voilà, there’s a little look inside eight of Oxford University’s most beautiful libraries!