A glimpse of the Sackler’s special collections

More than a month into my time at the Sackler, I am still discovering obscure but delightful aspects of its collections. One of my newly-acquired responsibilities is to fetch items from the closed stack areas of the library. Readers can consult these special collections items in a dedicated corner of the ground floor under the watchful eye of the desk staff, as these books are often old/rare/generally difficult and expensive to replace. These fascinating resources and gems from times gone by are kept in a variety of hidden places around the library.

One of these repositories is the Rare Books Room. Here a multitude of old volumes are kept under lock and key (read: sophisticated modern alarm system) in rolling stacks.


Inside the Rare Books Room [all photos taken by me]
Items in the Rare Books Room include:

  • folios and books containing accounts and drawings by 19th-century travellers to sites of interest such as those in Egypt;
  • accounts of famous archaeological excavations, such as Arthur Evans’ excavation of Knossos on the Greek island of Crete, some of which used to belong to the Ashmolean Museum Library collection;
  • drawings of artefactsheld at the British Museum in its early days.
Excavation reports
View of Petra in Jordan by Victorian Scottish artist David Roberts

Curious visitors to the Sackler Library may have noticed an intriguing room set back from the edge of the main reading room on floor 1 called the Wind Room. Though this may sound like a reference to something classical or elemental, it is actually named after Edgar Marcel Wind. Wind was a German academic who became Oxford’s first Art History professor in 1955, after a stint as a lecturer at All Souls. More information about Wind and his time at Oxford can be found here . The Wind Room itself mostly contains books about western art printed between 1500-1900. Because of their age, the books are treated as special/rare books, and are locked inside caged shelves that I think are actually rather attractive.

Caged books in the Wind Room

There is also an Archives Room containing archives of various Classicists and archaeologists, along with MPhil and DPhil theses, and miscellaneous pamphlets. I’ve only been in that room twice ever, and I suspect there is more to be uncovered during future visits!

The Sackler Library also houses a major research centre for Egyptology, including papyrology , and the work being done here warrants its own blog post (or even entire blog), so watch this space…

[NB the Sackler Library has now been renamed to the Art, Archaeology and Ancient World Library]

Emily Pulsford, Sackler Library

Stepping through the neoclassical facade of the Sackler Library and into the library beyond must feel for some like entering the TARDIS. It is hard to get a sense of the interior’s size from the street outside this building, which is nestled up against the back of the Ashmolean Museum, just around the corner from some of the main tourist spots in Oxford.

Entrance to the Sackler with bikes for scale [all photos taken by me, hence bad contrast]
The Sackler Library opened in 2001, making it a relatively new kid on the block in Oxford terms. It brought together a range of previous collections (including the Ashmolean Museum’s library) and now houses resources for several subjects: Classics, Archaeology,  Egyptology, Art History and some Architecture. Readers range from Faculty professors, to undergrads and postgrads, visiting academics with specific research interests, and even curatorial staff from the Ashmolean Museum. The latter have special borrowing privileges and access to a secret magic portal (ok, it’s a door) between the library and the museum! There are also some special collections, including 18th-century art books, archaeological records and ancient papyri (more on these in future blog posts).

I’m very excited to have the opportunity to work in this wonderful research environment as the graduate library trainee this year. My name is Emily Pulsford and I studied Classics at Cambridge a few years ago. Against the odds, my degree subject now feels relevant and useful! My previous job was for a small publishing firm that made textbooks and information books for primary schools. As part of that, I visited school library services and communicated with school librarians, which is what inspired me to explore the possibilities of a career in librarianship/information.

Sackler ground floor reading room, featuring columns. Because that’s what the Greeks and Romans are famous for, right?

So far at the Sackler, I have spent much time trying to familiarise myself with the library layout and collections. Two aspects of the library itself make this a harder task than it sounds. Firstly, because the library contains collections that came from all over the place originally, many different shelf marks and classifications systems are in use and the organisation seems illogical at times. Secondly, the library consists of five circular floors, with few distinctive landmarks to help get your bearings. Add in my sub-par sense of direction and spatial awareness, and you can see why this has proven more of a challenge that it first appeared.

To aid new readers (aka the fast-approaching freshers) who may have the same problem with orientation, I have been printing out and making up booklets with library information and, most importantly, floor plans!!

When I’m not wandering around the library trying not to look too lost when shelving books, I spend time at the issue desk. Here I do the basics of loaning and returning books, as well as helping readers answer their (varied) enquiries. The Sackler is also a pick-up point for books from the Bodleian’s remote storage facility at Swindon, so I help unload delivery crates and get books on the shelves ready for readers to use, reversing this process when it is time for them to go back to Swindon.

What with the build-up to the start of term, getting used to the library layout and workings, and lots of centralised training sessions with my lovely fellow trainees, it’s been a hectic first few weeks for me here at the Sackler. However, I have enjoyed getting stuck in with library life and getting to know the large and experienced team here, and I look forward to all the other opportunities this year brings!

[NB the Sackler Library has now been renamed to the Art, Archaeology and Ancient World Library]