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 A directory of rare book and special collections in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland edited by B.C. Bloomfield with the assistance of Karen Potts (Library Association, 1997).