Balfour Library

Part of my aim in writing this blog is to highlight the little gem libraries of Oxford’s alleys and departments. They’re not always beautiful, soaring spaces, but they’re intensely useful. It’s easy to fall in love with one of these small libraries and to make it your study-home for a semester or year. The Balfour is a one-room library partitioned off from the Pitt Rivers Museum, which shares a Ruskinian building with Oxford’s Natural History Museum and focuses on anthropology and archaeology (photo 1). As you can see in photos 2 and 3, the Pitt Rivers is a wild and somewhat claustrophobic space absolutely filled with artifacts (the shrunken heads being the most popular).  So it’s something of a surprise to come across, at the back of the building, the glassy, modern Balfour Library. It’s a cheerful space, although compact. Founded in 1939 and named after the museum’s first curator, the library still serves as a research base for the museum and as the library of the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography.


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