going underground

18 going underground

The Bodleian Library in Oxford is one of the oldest libraries in Europe dating back more than 400 years, and in the UK is second in size only to the British Library, in London. The majority of its books are stored below ground level underneath the New Library, which in turn is joined by an underground passageway to the older building.  The collection is housed on a series of moveable shelves, the oldest of which were manufactured by the Lucy Manufacturing Plant, now in Thame, that I had visited a few weeks previously.

When users of the library request a book, it is collected from its position on one of the moveable shelves and then taken by trolley to a dispatching room.  There, the book is put into a hard case, marked for the particular reading room it is destined to arrive at, and then put onto a conveyor system.  Whilst readers study in silence above ground then, there is a continuous industry of sound: of books being collected, the reverberant sound of trolleys being pushed along, the deep echo of the tunnels fire doors closing, and the conveyor machinery whirring as the books are delivered to their users.

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