All right, I know our last time travel trip to 1550 was a little discouraging (all the books had been robbed out of Oxford’s Bodleian library), but I promise you today’s trip will be full of the new and optimistic. We’re visiting the Bodleian in the year 1612, and by this time the library will be refurbished and reopened to students. The man responsible for the library’s turn of fortune is Thomas Bodley, the library’s namesake. I’ll tell you more about him when we get there. Are you ready to go? Good. Brace yourself… Suhzapp! Careful, we’ve landed on a bit of uneven ground. The paving in this area won’t be installed for another three years when it becomes the library’s quadrangle. But let’s take a look at the front
Imagine coming home on a fog-heavy evening to find a letter waiting for you on your desk. You’re almost sure of who it’s from and what it says. There’s been rumors and you believe them. So you engage in every distraction you can before bringing yourself to slice open the envelope and pull out the single piece of paper. You read the words. You bow your head. Tomorrow morning authorities are coming to confiscate all your books. You’ll never see them again. Your eyes run over your shelves, pausing on the spines of your favorite books. The titles alone invoke the power of the words within. How many times have you enjoyed letting those pages take you away? You’ll never see them again. The clerks and students of Duke Humphrey’s library
Terribly sorry about the rain, but there really wasn’t any way around it. Oxford in 1444 is a soggy mess—I SAID, IT’S A SOGGY MESS. COME CLOSER SO YOU CAN HEAR ME. Good. And try to look like you fit in, the locals are already staring. Well, don’t stare back. You’ll make it worse. Eyes on me until we’re ready to move. Okay. So like I said, it’s 1444. Henry the VI is on the throne, he’s just married Margaret of Anjou and it’s thought that this will bring a bit of peace between England and France. Of course it won’t, but no one knows that yet so don’t say anything. France and—my goodness, it’s really coming down. I can barely see across the courtyard.
This, my library card-carrying friends, is the first entry in the Great Libraries Folio. What is the Great Libraries Folio? I’ll tell you. It’s a book we’ll create together as we explore the great libraries of the past and present. I believe this is an apt endeavor for two reasons. In the first place, you must like libraries if you’re brave enough to come to a library full of dragons. And second, you seem the time-traveling type. Now, there are centuries’ worth of wandering aisles and musty shelves in our future, and there’s no way we have the energy to go tramping through them all at once—no matter how stout our hearts. Therefore, we must uncover each library’s secrets one at a time. That in