Oxford erupts in 'Battle of the Bod'

Paul Gallagher reports from the front line of an academic dust-up

It is a row that could have been scripted by Tom Sharpe in his satirical Wilt series. On one side are some of the nation's foremost academic minds, issuing threats of a "terrifying revolt". On the other, the guardians of the dusty tomes at arguably the finest library in the world.

The battle is over reading space at the University of Oxford's Bodleian Library, its main research library and one of the oldest in Europe; in the UK, it is second in size only to the British Library. Until recently, several subjects had their own separate library buildings within the Bodleian group. Now, they jostle for space side by side. The management's "bold" vision for a Bodleian fit for the future has been derided by academics as "philistine".

Collections have been moved from their normal resting place, shuffled around and dispersed in their vast new home, leaving visitors scratching heads rather than chins. The Bodleian libraries are now so vast that a separate book-storing facility in Swindon, acquired in 2010, holds more than seven million items. Students request material from Swindon and deliveries to Oxford arrive twice a day.

The decidedly uncollegiate dispute showed little sign of ending this weekend as one academic warned of tumultuous days ahead. Professors and students from modern languages, English, history and classics had criticised the decision to relocate their subject libraries and cram them either into "the Bod" itself or into the Radcliffe Camera, one of its three main sections.

Some academics have been placated by changes to the original plans, but the classics professor Robin Lane Fox said "massive resentment" was still brewing over "the abuse of our former treasure, the Bodleian Library". He added: "The reading rooms have been turned upside-down. Research now means tracking books whose placing we once knew by heart. It is no use the librarian telling us she 'shares our pain'. She has presided over a collapse in front-line research all summer, the prelude to a terrifying revolt this coming year."

The library hit back last night claiming that the professor, whose daughter Martha is one of the founders of Lastminute.com, was wrong. A spokeswoman for the Bodleian said: "The entire lending collections [of the modern history library], along with our expert staff, have moved to the Radcliffe Camera, where students benefit from the proximity of lending and reference teaching collections and significantly longer opening hours."

Barbara Speed, editor of the university newspaper, Cherwell, said many students were upset about the changes. "Faculties used to have their own library but the history faculty library has now completely closed and relocated. A lot of students have complained about the cramped conditions, and academics are obviously upset as well."

Protests by academics have had some success. Gregory Hutchinson, professor of Greek and Latin languages and literature, said that "strong representations" had changed the library's plans regarding classics. "There is a definite sense that the library is doing lots of consulting now and altering plans to accommodate the views of readers."

A debate on the future of libraries in Congregation – the dons' "parliament" – was held last week. But some are still not happy. Dr William Poole, a fellow in English, said the changes had "overridden the basic duty of the libraries of Oxford or of any other university: to serve academics and students". He added: "The culture of the library is changing, we weren't asked, and we don't like it. Following the recent debates, I believe some promises have been made concerning better consultation… so we shall have to see what happens."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
A recent rise in net migration has been considered bad news for the Government
voicesYet when we talk about it, the national media goes into a frenzy, says Nigel Farage
Life and Style
Miracle muffin: chemicals can keep a muffin looking good at least a month after it was bought
food + drinkThe alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Sport
Jonny Evans and Papiss Cisse come together
football
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Reach Volunteering: External HR Trustee Needed!

Voluntary post, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Would you ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree have recently been awa...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic