Favourite reading spots in Oxford


in Daily updates, Oxford

Queen’s College, Oxford

One of the most telling things about a person’s personality may be which places they choose to do the masses of reading meant to dominate the lives of an Oxford student. There is a certain sort that appreciates the reading rooms in the Bodleian (and another sort forced there due to the location of necessary materials). Some people like the cold modernism of the Social Sciences Library, while others adore the grandeur of the Upper Camera.

Personally, I tend to stick to a collection of locations around the centre of town. These include the Wadham Library (more for a sense of connection to the college than because it is attractive or has useful materials), the Wadham MCR, the Codrington Library, the Upper Camera, and the Starbucks locations on the High Street and Cornmarket Street. Sometimes, if it is nice, the Wadham gardens get added to the rotation, especially the little area at the western edge of the private fellows’ garden that is a bit obscured by plants. That said, I probably read more in my room than in all other places put together – enormously more if you include things read on the computer.

What places do other residents appreciate? Are there any that I simply must try during the 125 days that remain to me here?

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan February 25, 2007 at 3:23 pm

I don’t think many people spend time reading in the Duke Humfrey’s Library in the Bodleian, but it is worth linking an image.

Anon @ Wadh February 25, 2007 at 3:32 pm

You seem to have shifted gears almost entirely from ‘explore’ to ‘consolidate and codify.’ One hundred days or more is still a very substantial chunk of your total allotment of time here and, after the thesis, it will probably be the least stressful chunk since the beginning.

Tom February 25, 2007 at 5:29 pm

I actually prefer the lower portion of the Radcliffe Camera.

Milan February 25, 2007 at 9:17 pm

I have the Gardiner piece. Henry Shue has recommended it to me twice. This, I saw just now on Metafilter. A very short article, with some bad noise at the end:

Children losing sleep over global warming

“A survey of 1,150 youngsters found that one in four blamed politicians for the problems of climate change, while one in seven said their own parents were not doing enough to improve the environment.

The most feared consequences of global warming included poor health, the possible submergence of entire countries and the welfare of animals.

Most of those polled in the survey by supermarket chain Somerfield understood the benefits of recycling – although one in ten thought it was linked to riding a bike.”

R.K. February 25, 2007 at 7:41 pm

Useful, perhaps

Gardiner, Stephen. “Ethics and Global Climate Change.” Ethics. Volume 114 (2004), pages 555–600.

Oxford Full Text

Sarah February 26, 2007 at 5:48 am

I have a soft spot for the PPE Reading Room (now philosophy?), based on spending a lot of time there & the fact that it used to keep daily copies of the broadsheets for when you need a break from serious reading.
As an undergrad, I was always surprised at the way old folks congregated in the Upper Reading Room of the Bod, but now that I’m getting old the good lighting & comparative warmth sound appealing.
There’s a Map Reading Room, which claims to hold the world’s 7th largest collection of maps. It was interesting & almost deserted the only time I visited it (possibly distracting, though).
Finally, it may be worth taking a look at the old bit of the Merton College Library too, if you haven’t yet – it is the oldest library in continued use in the world & looks like a Viking longboat upside down (with books).

Lee February 26, 2007 at 11:11 am

I’m not actually a fan of Oxford libraries. I like the Lower Camera myself but it is far too cold, even in the height of summer, for me to make it a regular haunt. Whenever I am compelled to use the Bod I usually use the Upper Reserve as it’s comparatively warm and light. I’m surprised anyone likes the old PPE reading room – in general the Old Bod is a revolting building and I’m glad they plan to completely gut it over the next several years. I hate the SSL – whoever thought grey and purple was a good colour scheme and that vastly inadequate heating would make for a comfortable place to work should be shot. I really struggled to find somewhere warm and comfortable to write my MPhil in – I eventually settled on the basement bit of St Antony’s library, which is quite cosy and tranquil. Nuffield’s library is OK but cold in winter and doesn’t have a lot of seating. Hmm. Anyway I do the vast majority of reading in my office these days, only using other places when I’m forced to.

As you might know I am on the Bodleian committee for the new humanities library being planned for the Radcliffe Infirmary site. That won’t be ready for readers to use until something like 2013, but it’ll be interesting to see if it offers an improvement over the current alternatives.

Milan February 26, 2007 at 11:46 am


I have never seen the PPE Reading Room. Is it in the prison-like New Bodleian? Members of the university staff lament to me that it is now a listed building, and can never have its unwelcoming facade altered.

I heard that it was very difficult to get into the Old Library at Merton. How does a person pull it off?

Where is the Map Reading Room? That, I would like to see.

Milan February 26, 2007 at 11:51 am


I have been writing my thesis almost exclusively in Starbucks or my room, though my preference for the former may have something to do with how the chain is the strongest hegemonic force from my part of the world.

One library that I like and forgot to mention is the American Institute Library. It is designed with a similar philosophy to the SSL, but I think it is better realized. I did post a picture of it at some point, and I will link it here when I can find it.

Anon February 26, 2007 at 12:44 pm

Britain for Americans
If you’re really stuck with a British word, you might like to get hold of a copy of the “Oxford Dictionary”. It’s a version of your Webster’s dictionary, produced by the famous Oxford School in London, and deals with the British language in a lot of detail.

Milan February 27, 2007 at 12:06 am

Some of the stuff on this similar but non-satirical page is useful, even after having spent more than a year here.

Sarah February 27, 2007 at 4:48 am

The PPE Reading room is in the New Bod. I agree that it looks rather like a prison, but since I am very enthusiastic about prison architecture I see this as no bad thing. Perhaps my familiarity with the building subconciously influenced my PhD topic? Anyway, the Map RR is upstairs in the New Bod, I believe, opposite where the door to the PPE RR was. I recall it had better light than the PPE RR did due to facing South.
The rumour when I was an undergrad at Merton was that one arranged an appointment with the librarian to be escorted up there. I think people used to take their parents in, so guests are presumably allowed. Do you know any Mertonians who would take you? If not, perhaps try asking the library staff very nicely.

Milan February 28, 2007 at 10:43 pm

When I am going less insane with the thesis, I will give this a try.

Milan February 28, 2007 at 10:46 pm
Paul March 17, 2007 at 10:51 pm

I absolutely loved working in the American Institute. Superb in Summer, when abundant natural light pours through the huge glass frontage.

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