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Rare Books in the Bodleian Library: Collections

Guide to using Rare Books in the Bodleian Library

Death's dance



The rare books holdings of the Bodleian Library reflect its history as the library of the University of Oxford since 1602, with strengths in theology, law, the classical tradition, and mathematics although almost all subjects and genres are represented somewhere. 

Many printed rare book collections bear shelfmarks (often abbreviated) derived from the following sources:

  • Names of former owners or libraries whose books have been acquired and are still kept together as separate collections, e.g Douce.
  • Descriptions of categories of books grouped by subject matter, eg Art. [Artes], Bib. [Bible Collection], etc.
  • Groups having a common origin: eg Don. [Donations], Diss. [Dissertations], Inc. [Incunabula], etc.

For more information see the Provenance Index and Karen Attar (ed.) A directory of rare book and special collections in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, third edition (London : Facet, 2016)

Early books can also be found in the main historic classification schemes (e.g. Old Class, Nicholson, Year Books, etc.) with numeric shelfmarks usually indicating subject area. While these schemes are no longer added to, Nicholson in particular provides access to printed acquisitions made between 1883 and 1988 for items lacking subjects in the main SOLO record. For more information please see: Michael Heaney. The Bodleian Classification of Books. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, October 1978, 10: p.274-282.A copy of the scheme is available from Rare Books.