Dr David Maw, Fellow and Tutor in Music, has recently been elected as Fellow Librarian at Oriel. We asked Dr Maw to reflect on his new role, tell us how students’ use of the Library has evolved, and upcoming projects to mark Oriel’s 700th anniversary.
“As Fellow Librarian, I oversee the running of the Library. It is not an onerous task day-to-day, as we have a brilliant team of highly trained and experienced librarians, led by Hannah Robertson the College Librarian, who ensure its routine functioning. My input is directed more at collaborating with the College Librarian to set policies, establish priorities, and formulate ambitions for the Library. I represent the Library’s interests on key committees of College”, Dr Maw says.
He hopes to maintain the Library’s place “at the forefront of college life” by its competent running and proper planning. Dr Maw also highlights that “the Library building and its contents represent most fully what the institution is about: the development of knowledge and the cultivation of learning”.
The Senior Library is an iconic part of Oriel with almost 25,000 books dating from the fourteenth to nineteenth centuries. Our collection comprises a thousand or so volumes of rare publications from the estate of Orielensis Edward, fifth Baron Leigh, whose books were inherited by College in 1786, and “their arrival at Oriel necessitated the construction of a new library”.
One of the most marvellous parts of the Senior Library is ‘Orielensia’, that comprises books “about and by distinguished alumni and presents a fascinating snapshot of the college’s bibliographic legacy”. According to Dr Maw, one of the librarians’ main aspirations is to make the collection more accessible to readers.
A major project for the Senior Library is on the agenda ahead of Oriel’s 700th anniversary in 2026. Divided into three stages, the project involves “packing the book collection for removal to offsite storage, structural work on the Senior Library and preparation of it for the return of the collection”, and a “full-scale cataloguing of the entire collection”, which has never been undertaken before.
He continues: “The Pantin Library is the junior library. Named in memory of History Fellow William Pantin, whose bequest along with donations from many alumni in his honour paid for refurbishments in 2014. It is a rabbit warren of different rooms and spaces; and although no one would design a library like that from scratch today, no one can deny its charm”.
Dr Maw adds: “Student needs can be highly individual, and attending to them as they arise case by case is also an important part of our activities. The library is open to users twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. For some students that in itself was a reason to apply to Oriel”.
We asked Dr Maw if the use of Library and study spaces have changed in his time at Oriel, he replied:
“Yes, immensely. The physical book is less important today than when I started, with many texts now available as e-books. Journals are typically consulted online, and print copies are being phased out from acquisition and stock”.
Nevertheless, the physical editions remain important, with the Bodleian prioritising ‘Digital First’, it is up to Oriel’s library to supplement with print purchases, and “with the rapid production of academic books, there’s more need than ever to find space for significant new texts”.
Dr Maw states that approaches to learning have changed drastically – the process of studying has become “less individualistic” with more “collaboration and interaction”. Furthermore, the silent Library ambience is no longer a reality.
“There is now a designated quiet discussion zone on the first floor, which includes specially designed space for group-study, and computers now feature prominently. The Library was proactive in cooperating with Oxford’s interlibrary online catalogue, Solo. The twenty-four-hour issue and return process works through self-service machines”.
Speaking of his favourite collections, Dr Maw calls it “wide-ranging and eclectic” with some “surprising and notable things – such as the letters of Saint John Henry Newman; and borrowing registers, which enable us to see which books Fellows of former centuries took out”.
Reflecting on the Senior Library’s collection, he concludes: “I am passionate about ensuring its ongoing preservation and use under the best possible conditions. The time is ripe to cherish the Senior Library once again, and I am very pleased to be leading this new phase of work”.