As part of the Oxford Traherne undergraduate summer studentship, I have been lucky enough to explore Brasenose’s impressive collection of rare books. Liz Kay gave us a comprehensive tour of Brasenose’s collections, presenting a snapshot of the broad range of rare books held at Brasenose, each with their own history and eccentricities. I was also struck by the variety of contexts in which the books are stored, from the traditional and atmospheric library at the top of Brasenose tower’s seemingly endless spiral steps to the more modern air-conditioned rolling stacks of the basement, providing an illuminating insight into the challenges and complexity of looking after these rare books and ensuring their survival for the future.
I returned to Brasenose to look at some particular items and was very pleased to discover that Brasenose, Traherne’s old college, still has some copies of works which he read and took notes from as an undergraduate. Though it is impossible to say whether these are the copies Traherne himself read, it was fascinating to examine these four-hundred year old books and the marks of earlier readers which they contain – it seems Oxford’s seventeenth-century students were as prone to marginalia as the students of today.
I would like to thank Liz Kay for her fascinating tour and the insight she gave us into both Brasenose’s historic collection and the challenges and responsibilities facing a 21st century library. She was extremely helpful and accommodating even in the midst of the renovation for the new library and contributed greatly to my research project and the studentship.