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Forgotten Treasures Unshelved

Oriel’s Senior Library in Second Quad is a hive of activity at the moment, with the first stages of an ambitious renovation project now well underway. The library has undergone a dramatic transformation, with scaffolding lining shelves, which themselves now stand empty.

Conservators checked and stabilised the collection before a specialist removals firm packaged books and other items for storage. They have now been transported to an external facility, where they will remain until 2026.

Meanwhile, rare books inventory assistant Dr. Natascha Domeisen has processed around 25,000 items, the estimated total holdings of the library, leading to a number of surprising discoveries.

The Senior Library renovation project will see a number of modern features implemented in the library, including environmental controls and new lighting. The aim is to protect the library collection while ensuring that the space and books are more accessible to students, academics, and visiting scholars.

Some of the team’s most exciting finds include a first edition of Isaac Newton’s “Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms,” Captain Sir John Franklin‘s personal copy of his “Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea,” recounting his disastrous voyage to the Canadian Arctic between 1819 and 1822, first editions of Henry Purcell’s musical scores, and a first edition of “The Anatomy of the Horse” by George Stubbs. The oldest book in the Senior Library collection dates back to the 15th Century.

Now that the Senior Library shelves are empty, the space will transform into a temporary dining hall as a major renovation project to improve College’s main kitchen, servery and bar begins.

After their return in 2026, the plan is for each item to be listed on Oxford’s online library catalogue, SOLO, making the collections discoverable to researchers from all around the world. “The items in the Senior Library make up one of the most interesting collections in Oxford and it’s really exciting to be able to share them and open up the Library to students, alumni and researchers,” said College Librarian Hannah Robertson. “We’ll also be making sure that they will be preserved for Oriel in the long term with expert conservation work and digitisation projects.”