The Christ Church College Library opened in 1772. They hold significant collections of rare books and manuscripts. They estimate they have roughly 100,000 early printed books dating from the advent of printing to 1800. They also have a special collection of musical scores. Their collections are organized by donor and include not only books and manuscripts but also the accompanying items that comprised the various aspects of the individual donor’s collection. For example, a collection of early printed science books also included scientific instruments and another collection also included coins. The library also has over 700 manuscript collections and one of the manuscripts dates from 1163. They have a few manuscripts from Elizabeth I and Edward III and manuscripts in other languages. The decorations around the library reflect aspects of the collections held by the library, such as musical and scientific instruments.
The library has also been digitizing materials. They have medieval and early modern manuscripts available online in PDF and are planning to digitize more. They are also in the process of cataloging their early printed books. They have spent thirteen years on the project so far, and they estimate approximately seven or eight more years before they complete the cataloging. The reason for the length of time taken is the level of detail which they are devoting to each catalog entry.
I enjoyed seeing one of the college libraries of Oxford, and the Christ Church College Library is such an amazing space. The way they organize the collections was also quite interesting, keeping them within their original collections rather than separating them out into a larger organizational scheme. Some special collections libraries in the United States also do this. I believe that New York University has a collection that is organized according to the classification scheme designed by its original owner. It felt that the entire library was simply a series of special collections, not just rare book collections, including all of the objects that accompanied the books and manuscripts when they were given to Christ Church College.
I felt we were quite fortunate in being able to visit such a magnificent library with so many varied collections. The main room was also a gorgeous space with some of the most exquisite decorative flourishes I have seen in a library. One of the most enjoyable experiences of visiting libraries in the UK is the prevalence of original wooden shelving. It is much more difficult to find such traditionally structured libraries within the United States, and the library at Christ Church College is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen.