This time last term, Oxford’s historians frolicked in their previous History Faculty Library (HFL), the Old Indian Institute, at the end of Catte Street. But there was a major problem: people could easily find the books they needed and take them back to their colleges. In short, the system worked and, as many of us will find out when we graduate, history and work are not natural bedfellows. So, the Faculty decided to flog the Old Indian Institute, which had served them well for forty years, and spend that money on crystal meth and ladyboys (probably).
The new library would be the Radcliffe Camera. Now, I understand that the Rad Cam is very pretty, and that looks can seduce, but the Isis is also very pretty, and no-one’s ever decided to fill that with books. And, looks aside, the Rad Cam also has a number of crippling flaws that make, in many respects, the Isis a far superior candidate for a new HFL.
Let me talk you through a trip into the new ‘Bodleian HFL’. Firstly, you must get past the library bouncer, who’s there to check your Bod Card. And that’s fair enough – Tod Parker from West Virginia wants to go inside and look for the Queen, and he has to be stopped. Then, you must go down some stairs, and use the very same Bod Card that let you in to swipe through a set of electric doors. Clearly, there’s a real fear that Tod Parker from West Virginia might shoot the library bouncer with his .357 Magnum, and so an extra line of defence is necessary. After all, the HFL is full of invaluable manuscripts that need protecting, such as The Oxford Dictionary of Popes, a priceless manuscript (£14.98 from Amazon, postage and packing not included) so rare that only students can be trusted with it.
Then there’s finding the book you want. If I were a librarian, I would give each tome a number, something like one or two or maybe even three, and arrange them chronologically. But I appreciate this is Oxford, and so everything must be needlessly difficult. Drag your hand across your keyboard and you’ll come up with an easier code than those the HFL now deploys. My reading list this week contained such pithy and effective references as ‘HQ 799.G7 SPR 1986’ and ‘(UBHU) M96.E01936’. You see, to make things interesting, the Faculty has decided to mix three different referencing systems, related only by their total incoherence. To add some fun to the lucky dip, one of those contains books that can’t even be taken out of the Gladstone Link, and are nothing to do with history at all, which is naturally why there are to be found bang in the middle of the new HFL.
And the crème de la crème of this tale of unadulterated misery? The timing. The Faculty had all vacation to move the books. But we’ve been at Oxford three weeks, and half the shelves are still empty. It’s almost as if they’re confused by, I don’t know, a referencing system or something… So, if you can endure Fort Knox security, and the confusion, your books might not even be there after all. Splendid.
All this ranting and I haven’t even got to the horrors of the Gladstone Link and its spinning, mangling book cases of death. I’ll put that aside for the moment, for something must be done. I’m tempted to unleash a ruthless terrorist campaign, but frankly I feel much safer writing inflammatory remarks in this newspaper than actually doing something about them. Perhaps I could set myself on fire in Radcliffe Square, a glorious martyrdom against tyranny and overuse of swipe cards? I don’t think even that noble sacrifice would melt the hearts of the Faculty. Collective action might be necessary. If every historian, whenever they took a book out from the HFL, drew a penis on a random page, the University’s collection would be slowly phallusified. Maybe, just maybe, the gradual build-up of crudely-drawn male genitalia would topple the HFL’s reign of terror.