Last month, Oxford University reopened its Weston Library, after an £80m refurbishment. Part of the Bodleian Libraries, the Weston was a previously unloved building, often derided for its drab architecture in a city renowned for its great many beautiful buildings. However, after this massive investment, it has been transformed into what can only be described as a vast state-of-the-art space, to house the Bodleian’s special collections.
Conservation staff at the library now have modern workshops equipped with the latest technology, in which they can carry out preservation and conservation work on these significant collections, including rare books, maps, and manuscripts. The words conservation, collections, and restoration, are ones usually associated with museums, where objects considered to be of significance are stored and looked after, kept away (and often out of sight) from the wandering hands of the public. You can’t check out an object from a museum, and neither can you check out a book from the Weston.
Like a museum, the Weston Library now has exhibition galleries and spaces which are open to the public, showcasing some of its many treasures. This prompts the question, what is the difference between a library and a museum, or alternatively, at what point does a library become a museum? At the Weston, if you didn’t know you were in a library, you would be forgiven if you thought it to be a museum. This is by no means a criticism; I have long been fascinated by the similarities between libraries and museums, and it is truly thrilling to see an institution such as the Weston Library emerge as an example of somewhat of a library-museum hybrid. As well as gallery and exhibition spaces, there is a cafe and a shop, but beyond the physical similarities, the Weston also has online exhibitions. The current exhibition, Marks of Genius, can be viewed here: http://genius.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/exhibits/browse/
The Weston Library is open daily, and admission is free. Check it out if you are ever in Oxford (or visit their website if you’re not). There are many truly wonderful treasures to be seen there.
Do you think libraries and museums are more similar than they are different? As always, comments are welcome.