Taylor Institution Library

In honor of National Libraries Day, a post on one of Oxford’s most beautiful department libraries, the Taylor Institution Library! Sir Robert Taylor is the namesake of the Taylor Institution (or Taylorian), founded in 1845, half a century after his death. Although Taylor worked as an architect and sculptor, he left his estate to support the teaching of modern European languages. And that’s pretty much what the Taylorian still does. Its shares its original quarters, built in the 1840s by Charles Cockerell, with the fabulous Ashmolean Museum (which is fabulous. Seriously.) The Modern Language Faculty Library inhabits a less glamorous but still pleasant connected 1938 building on St Giles’ (the door, photo 1; the stacks, photo 9). The growing Slavonic and Eastern European collections have since been transferred to a different location, which I think is a bit unfair to them, since the Taylorian is such an inspiring space. Its cavernous ceiling, graceful gallery, and elevated desks overlooking the wide boulevard of St Giles’ make it a much sought-after (and sometimes crowded) study space (photos 2-8). The Institution also seems to go on forever, with a warren of bright paneled rooms and basement tunnels. As for its collections, in addition to 500,000 books on the languages of Europe, it also holds a variety of special collections materials and an entire collection devoted to the French Enlightenment, the Voltaire Room (photo 10). There may not be a cafe (my second favorite thing in a library) but there are lots of books (first favorite thing)–so come visit!


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And go on a virtual tour (with more pictures, and fire safety tips!) here:


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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