Oxford-A Tale of Two Libraries

Hi! Here’s a slightly tardy update on a cool experience in Oxford. As of publishing, I am in Canterbury and we leave for Cambridge tomorrow afternoon.

On the 16th, I visited the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, which is an incredible experience. There are books on display from 1505, and the library itself dates back to the eighth century. Later, I visited an unassuming boba tea shop with windows and walls covered in notes. I was honestly more intrigued and impacted by the note wall than by the library.

First, some explanation: I have the utmost respect for established institutions and it was amazing to get a peek into the inner workings of a historic university. We learned about the practices and habits of the college in regards to administration and education and even discipline. Our tour guide said “there is an easy way and a complicated way to do things, and people of Oxford will always choose the complicated way”. This proved true as she described the system of smaller “colleges” within the larger university and which jurisdiction belonged where.

The Radcliffe Medical Library. Pictures of the inside were forbidden, but they have not only an ornate building, but a labyrinth of underground book storage and reading rooms. The people of Oxford are dedicated to the preservation and expansion of knowledge to an impressive degree.

This is the Oxford coat of arms. The Latin phrase means “God my inspiration” and the open book is something of an Oxford inside joke, since the Cambridge coat of arms is a closed book. It was fun to learn about the ongoing friendly competition between the two iconic institutions. This is the only example where the page is turned down, to show that they read more than one page of the book, a rebuttal to a Cambridge diss.

The tour was lovely, but at the end I was left to find lunch in Oxford and while away two hours. I was burned out on travel and history and needed a break. I was also going through some issues with comrades and feeling insecure and isolated. I wandered through town until I found the Covered Market, with a sign proclaiming the establishment dates from 1774. Although the concept of the market had deep roots, many of the shops looked new. An unassuming boba tea shop caught my eye, not because I was thirsty, but because the walls were a work of art.

The sheer number of post-it notes on the windows made for a Pinterest-worthy set up. The color was a refreshing surprise on a dreary day. Upon closer inspection, I saw a variety of words and artwork on each note,

This note made me smile. I don’t know who Lottie or Melissa are, but I hope they and their feet are happy together.

This was my small contribution to the collection. I don’t know who will see it, but I hope they will smile.

The connection between historical and modern records struck me as intriguing. I found myself wanting to know more about the writers of the notes and what prompted them to inscribe their thoughts and feelings. While the records of history are important and well worth preserving, they are less accessible to the general public, and less applicable or relatable. I found myself understanding and agreeing with many of the neon sentiments and engaging in a sort of conversation with them. It just goes to show that while the methods and frequency of written records have evolved over time, the impulse to preserve our minutiae has not.

This leads me to question the nature of my blog as well. I view my writings in a similar position as notes on the wall, as thought processes that someone down the line may enjoy. I don’t necessarily write for approval, although I won’t turn it down. I write to share my passion about things that spark joy in me, to process complex ideas and themes, and to hopefully inspire discussion and thought in others, whether I know them or not. What I write about may change over time, but these core values are my North Star.

Non Voyage ⭐️ 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 E


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