Earlier this month I attended the International Association of Law Libraries (IALL) annual course on law and legal information. This year’s course was held at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and the theme was Common Law Perspectives in an International Context. In addition to excellent lectures on common law in the UK, there were comparisons to civil law systems and issues in international law. A last minute addition on Brexit was a big crowd pleaser, no surprise there.
Outside the lecture hall, I was able to visit two Oxford libraries. The first, the Bodleian Library, is highly trafficked with gallery space for special collections but did not allow pictures. The second, the Codrington Library at All Souls College, is a little more obscure but welcomed the camera. The latter is the subject of this week’s Pic of the Week.
Unusual for Oxford, All Souls College does not have its own students but it does accept fellows. From an American perspective, this would be equivalent to being a research institution without any undergraduates. Fellowships here are quite competitive, averaging only two awarded each year. Also unusual for Oxford, the Codrington Library does admit all members of the university to access its reading room and collections.
Upon entering the main quadrangle of the college, one immediately sees a Christopher Wren-designed sundial above the main entrance to the library. Beyond the walls looms the Radcliffe Camera, part of the Bodleian Libraries.
I was interested in this library as it is known for its law collection and because William Blackstone was a Fellow of All Souls College. In addition to his interest in law, Blackstone had a keen interest in architecture and is credited with the completion of the Codrington Library’s main reading room in 1756. It is believed Blackstone initiated the organization of books in the reading room according to his own classification system.
The collection numbers approximately 185,000 volumes, one-third of which are considered rare, i.e., printed prior to 1800. The main subjects are law and history. Collection development is responsive to the needs of All Souls’ Fellows. Attempts are made to avoid collection duplication with other Oxford colleges, especially the larger Bodleian Law Library. The Codrington has been known to acquire titles that are out of reach of other Oxford libraries, thanks in part to a well-endowed book budget.