Before I visited, I’d already got the impression that the RSL is the pride and joy of many a science student or academic here. Perhaps I was hearing about it so much because, as one of the largest Bodleian libraries, it holds resources for 5 university departments: Biochemistry, Physical Sciences, Geography and Earth Sciences, Life Sciences and Medicine, and Psychology. As you can imagine, it’s pretty big, and pretty a-maze-ing, both in the awesome sense and the easy-to-get-lost sense.
Inside, I found, as I toured around with the Library Services Manager James Shaw, there is a varied and adventurous range of environments. The grand, wood-furniture Worthington Wing is balanced by the simple and elegantly functional decor in newer parts of the building. I was really relieved to find that everything wasn’t overwhelmingly scientific – no diagrams of intermolecular forces everywhere on the walls (my high school Chemistry wouldn’t have got me very far at all). The RSL had even recently run a scientific poetry competition, with the winners’ writing dotted around the library. A lovely supplement of the arts in a scientifically excellent place, and clever. There is a wall near the entrance on which all the latest Oxford scientific research is rotationally displayed though, which I thought was pretty cool – someday, those squiggly hypotheses are going to save lives, or do something similarly useful.
The underground level Lankester room is an interesting place – apparently many students like to work there. The floor is completely artificially lit, of course, and the lights switch themselves on and off as you walk between the bookshelves. Which is slightly odd, or maybe comforting, depending on what kind of thing floats your librarial boat.
Oh, and this door below – it’s so brilliant! It has two panels which slide from each side, and is carved and hollowed out with representations of six eminent scientists. The room inside used to be where they kept the rare books, so it could be locked and people could still look inside and see them through the door. Now it’s the Keeper of Scientific Books’ office. Before this post becomes outrageously Potterish, she’s the chief librarian, not an archivist with a funny hat and magic wand. Though theoretically, since I opted not to barge into her office, I don’t know – she could be that too.
While wandering through the Psychology area of the library, I picked up a book called Moral Dilemmas: Philosophical and Psychological Issues in the Development of Moral Reasoning (edited by Carol Harding), in which I arbitrarily read a paper by Marilyn Friedman entitled Abraham, Socrates and Heinz: Where are the Women? I proceeded to educate myself a little on the Heinz dilemma, which most of the article was about, and which is also side-splittingly interesting. Morals, psychology, politics, thinking – if any of that interests you, reading about the Heinz dilemma is a must.
To sum it up, and I am glad to say this unreservedly as someone whose home base is the Law Bod, the Radcliffe Science Library basically has it all for a university library, if you’re a student. Aside from the formidable catalogue, of course, which is a given with the Bodleian, you can find somewhere light, somewhere dark, somewhere open and big, somewhere small, somewhere quiet, somewhere chatty, somewhere old, somewhere new to work – anything you prefer. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a library that’s both thought-through enough and big enough to be so universally functional to an undergrad. So fair dos to my scientific friends who love it – I’d be very very proud of it too.
Thank you very much indeed to Keeper of Scientific Books, Alena Ptak-Danchak, for warm hospitality, and to Library Services Manager James Shaw for kindly taking the time to show me around and for permission for photography. Radcliffe Science Library (@radcliffescilib).