Image sources: Wikimedia Commons

10 Libraries you should visit at least once while in Oxford

“…a totally subjective and opinionated review of the 10 Oxford libraries and reading spaces which made the most significant impression.”

Michaelmas feels as if it is approaching – fast. Things are different this year, but one constant will always be that Oxford University is teeming with libraries. According to the University website, there are over 100 libraries across the University, making it the largest network of libraries in the UK! Each of the libraries serves a different group of people, for example, each college has its own library which is used by just students of that college! However the Bodleian libraries, which number 30, are dotted across the city, and often serve a specific faculty. However, these spaces aren’t reserved for the students studying the subject housed there. They are often filled with study spaces in order to get work done.


Today I have decided to conduct a totally subjective and opinionated review of the 10 Bodleian libraries and reading spaces which made the most significant impression on me. The good and the… not so good. I hope that these reviews will help you to choose which library to try and book for now, or keep you informed of which to choose when more reading spaces re-open!

The Radcliffe Camera – 8/10

The Radcliffe Camera (often shortened to the ‘Rad Cam’) is probably the most famous library in Oxford. It’s been a key feature of the city since the 18th century, and from the looks of it I think they’ve only just started replacing the original 18thCentury chairs. Famous for being big, bulbous and beautiful, space is often at a premium inside this library. It is a very quiet workspace, at times to an intimidating degree. If you are a history student, chances are you will definitely visit the Radcliffe Camera several times while at Oxford, as it is home to the history faculty library.

Study here if:

· You want some fancy pictures for the ‘gram.
· You need books from the history faculty
· You love a good study break – it’s in a fantastic central location.

Don’t study here if:

· You dread being in the background of tourist snaps
· There’s a risk your phone could go off while in the library, as people WILL notice, and if you’re sat in the centre everyone will look at you (trust me, I’m speaking from experience here).
· You can’t read basic signs explaining that there is a one way system on the spiral staircases.

Bodleian Reading Rooms – 7/10

Oh, you thought the Rad Cam was quiet to an intimidating degree? Think again. The Bodleian appears to be the library in which ‘actual academics’ do their work. This is because Bodleian reading rooms hold research collections, rather than just the books on your reading lists. The Bodleian reading rooms are certainly an acquired taste, and some people certainly see it as their first port of call. I, however, tend to see it as the place to go when there is no room left in the Rad Cam.

Study here if:

· You want to be surrounded by portraits of “influential figures from history”.
· You want to look out of the window onto gorgeous views of Oxford.
· You like to think of yourself as a ‘proper academic’ rather than simply a lowly undergrad.

Don’t study here if:

· You are intimidated when surrounded by hard working people.
· You dislike having the faces of Stuart monarchs bearing down on you as you try to work.

Gladstone Link (upper) – 7/10

Ah the Gladstone Link, a place many people do not know exists until it is pointed out to them. The Gladstone link is an underground airport-style tunnel which runs between the Radcliffe Camera and the Bodleian library. However it is so much more than simply a tunnel. The Gladstone Link also houses a library in itself, and is the home to the majority of the history faculty books. It has a quiet, cosy vibe, without being too claustrophobic, which is why desk space here is often at a premium.

Study here if:

· You’re willing to get up early to grab one of the fantastic desks.
· You need an atmosphere in which to actually get work done.

Don’t study here if:

· You’re unwilling to risk working at an armchair with only a coffee table to rest your work on.
· You have no sense of direction and struggle to read complicated maps in order to find your books.

Gladstone Link (lower) – 6/10

There is a reason why the Lower Gladstone Link gets its own separate feature. And that is due to effect the dramatically lower footfall has on the place. A cross between a medieval dungeon and a nuclear fallout shelter, the Lower Gladstone Link is definitely not for the faint hearted. It may appear from the surface to be one of the worst libraries on the list; however you’ll know when you need the solitude this library provides, and when the time comes, you will be eternally grateful for its existence.

Study here if:

· You’re at that point in the term where you really need to get on with work.
· You enjoy a space without any distraction, or contact with any other human.

Don’t study here if:

· You need both natural light and a reliable internet connection to work.
· Your post apocalyptic fears are tied to underground workspaces.

Duke Humphrey’s Library – 6/10

Yes, the one that they used in the Harry Potter films. And that’s the last I’ll say on the matter. It is the oldest reading room of the Bodleian libraries, and is definitely worth checking out once during your time at Oxford, even if it is just for a peek around the doorframe. You can work there (if you have the guts to go in) but be warned; there are restrictions to studying in this library, one being that you cannot take your bag inside, so make sure that you bring change for a locker if you intend on going along.

Study here if:

· You continue to believe that associating Oxford with Harry Potter is a ‘cool’ thing to do.
· Looks are everything to you.

Don’t study here if:

· You enjoy taking your bag into the library with you
· You don’t have any spare change.

Sackler – 5/10

If you are looking for a library with ‘instagrammable’ aesthetics and a cosy vibe, then I’m afraid this will not be the library for you. Deceiving from its outsides (situated right next to the Ashmolean), the Sackler library is internally an abomination. Terrible views, mysteriously dark, and with tables which change size as you move along them, the Sackler library is an enigma which frankly, I am not inclined to investigate any further.

Study here if:

· You live in Worcester or St Johns and don’t like to walk far to work.
· You are in need of a book from the art history, classics, or ancient history collections, a book you cannot find anywhere else and are unable to take out.

Don’t study here if:

· Pale reds and dark greens do nothing for you.
· You don’t enjoy climbing several sets of stairs and navigating a ‘unique’ sorting system in order to find the book you came for.

Social Sciences Library – 9/10

Hidden up by St Catz lies the Social Sciences Library (SSL). This library is arguably the closest Oxford gets to a ‘normal university library’. Alongside the spacious and light library, the SSL building houses a social area and a café, meaning you don’t need to leave the library in order to take a break. It even has a dodgy coffee machine, if you are in need of a drink but are on a budget. My only advice would be to never get the machine hot chocolate.

Study here if:

· You like a big, clean desk with several plug sockets
· You find yourself up near St. Catz.
· You’re the kind of person who enjoys taking long study breaks with food.
· You want a space to sit and chat without going outside.

Don’t study here if:

· You have a tendency to leave your Bod-card at your table when nipping to the loo (you’ll need it to get back to your desk!).
· You only like to study in libraries which are ‘old’.

English Faculty Library – 4/10

Ugly on the outside, and not much better on the inside, the English faculty library is a part of the St Cross building, which screams the 1960s. The library does contain a light and open study area with ample desk space, and there is also a nearby coffee shop to fulfil your study break needs. However this is not a building for the architecturally faint-hearted.

Study here if:

· You find yourself up near Catz and don’t fancy the SSL.
· You are in need of an English text, or the film studies collection.

Don’t study here if:

· You can’t stand the sight of concrete
· Looks are everything to you.

Vere Harmsworth – 8/10

This library is definitely underappreciated within Oxford. It is bright and modern like the SSL, however in my opinion it’s ranking is elevated due to the fact it has fantastic individual desks. This is ideal when you know you need to get work done, but you haven’t quite reached the desperation of heading to the Lower Gladstone Link. The only downside, as is often the case, is that these desks fill up fast, so you have to be up bright and early in order to get a premium spot at this library. This library is part of the Rothermere American Institute and holds the university’s American collection.

Study here if:

· You like some ‘alone time’ in order to complete work
· Working with a view of Mansfield college is something you’re very keen on.

Don’t study here if:

· Looking up and seeing someone else’s blank, unforgiving stare is a part of the library experience you just can’t live without (although there are actually larger communal tables if that is your thing)
· You like to spread out and bring an excessive amount of books and gadgets with you to the library.

Taylor Institution – 7/10

The Taylor Institution, also known as the Taylorian, is the centre for modern European languages. Many people (in particular language students) see this library as an underrated gem, as it is arguably the best looking library in Oxford. However, the degree to which it is truly underrated is questionable, as spaces at the best looking tables usually fill very quickly.

Study here if:

· You enjoy working below a chandelier and next to a grand fireplace.
· Looks are everything to you.

Don’t study here if:

· You enjoy getting to the library any time after 10.05am

Map of the Oxford libraries mentioned in this article.
Map of the libraries mentioned in this article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.