At the beginning of the fall term at Oxford University in England, new students gather in groups of about 500 and are marched into the Radcliffe Camera where they will pledge an oath as has been carried on for centuries. The oath is not a pledge to sovereign nor country, nor loyalty to the University, nor to one’s college.
This first organized event at the beginning of a student’s life at Oxford is the following oath:
“I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, nor to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volumes, documents or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library, or kindle therein, any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library, and I promise to obey all rules of the Library.”
One can only wish this ancient oath could have anticipated “nor to bring into, open or spill Mountain Dew or other sticky and disgusting beverages.” Yet, it sets a marvelous tone of respect for an important resource in academic pursuit in higher education. Significantly, each of the approximately 50 colleges within the university each has its own chapel, another significant place in academic endeavor.
The St. Thomas London Business Semester students toured Oxford this past week and spent time in and about the world-famous Bodleian Library. Sir Thomas Bodley (1545-1613), an alumnus of Magdalen College at Oxford, after spending 20 years as a diplomat, returned to Oxford to devote his remaining years to the restoration of the university library, which had been plundered.
The result of Bodley’s efforts is a library, including some off-site storage areas, with a collection of 9 million items, 176 kilometers of shelving and seats for 2,500 readers. It is not a lending library. All use of books occurs within the walls of the library.
Even with the instant access of information on line, libraries are essential to academic life. One need only go to our own O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center to observe the importance of libraries. It is a place where students respect the study of others and together encourage one another in the pursuit of learning.
O’Shaughnessy-Frey is celebrating its 50th anniversary this fall. Modern technology has made this library no less crucial to the life of the university. Indeed, technology has made the library more accessible. We owe the O’Shaughnessy and Frey families gratitude for the investment and commitment to our library. We could also learn from Oxford the respect that all learners owe to libraries, the repositories of the wisdom and learning of the past.