If you are interested in seeing some of the world’s great libraries, you can find two of the top picks in England. If you start early, you can tour both of these spectacular literary temples in a single day. In terms of historical significance, stunning architecture, and all around great collections, the John Rylands Library and the Bodleian Library are sure-fire destinations that will not disappoint.
The John Rylands Library (The University of Manchester Library)
This library, located within the University of Manchester and commissioned by Enriqueta Rylands to memorialize her husband, John Rylands, was opened to the public on January 1, 1900. As depicted in the picture above, the architecture is Victorian Gothic and is breath-takingly beautiful. Why does it resemble a church? Mrs. Rylands’ original plan was for a theological library. That plan soon gave way as Mrs. Rylands began to gather rare books, manuscripts, and other special collections beyond those that were theological. Today, the library holds more than 250,000 books, more than one million manuscripts, and many other impressive archival items, such as New Testament papyri.
As the featured pictured of this article depicts, the architecture inside the John Rylands Library is just as spectacular as the façade. The main reading room’s 40-feet high vaulted ceiling is stunning in concert with the stained-glass windows and the ornate details carved into the sandstone. Other marvels to see are the main staircase, the art nouveau light fixtures, the white marble statutes of John and Enriqueta Rylands, and Rylands Gallery.
The library is open to everyone, all year round. From Tuesday to Saturday, visits are allowed from 10 AM in the morning until 5 PM. On Monday and Sunday, the library is open from 12 PM until 5 PM. For more information, visit http://www.library.manchester.ac.uk/rylands/, the library’s main website. The John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate Manchester M3 3EH, UK
Bodleian Library, Oxford
While in 2010 the main Bodleian Library became administratively part of a group of libraries at Oxford named the “Bodleian Libraries” and part of the larger whole named the “Oxford University Library Services”, the main Bodleian Library has existed since the early 1300s, making it one of the oldest libraries in all of Europe. The Bodleian Library actually consists of five buildings- the Clarendon Building and Radcliffe Camera (pictured above), the Bodleian Law Library, the Weston Library, the Schools Quadrangle, and Duke Humfrey’s Library. Of the five buildings, the Radcliffe Camera, with its classic architecture, its pillars and archways that remind me of the Great Temple of Petra, has in my humble opinion the most beautiful exterior.
However, when it comes to the interior, Duke Humfrey’s library and the Divinity School within the Bodleian Library (both pictured below) get my vote. Both interiors have been featured in several films, including the first two Harry Potter films.
Due in part to the Legal Deposit Libraries Act of 2003, though many of its fine collections were secured well before then, the Bodleian Library has over 12 million items and is second in England only to the national United Kingdom library. The library has many historic treasures, including letters from the poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, the Magna Carta, several codices, and Shakespeare’s first folio.
While those affiliated with Oxford University (as students, faculty, or employees) are permitted access to the library without further action, members of the public may become readers / users of this library by application and for the purpose of conducting research. For further information, visit https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk. Bodleian Libraries, Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BG