Libraries, archives and museums | University of Oxford
Duke Humfreys Library
Duke Humfrey's Library, part of the Bodleian Library
(Image Credit: Vinesh Rajpaul / Graduate Photography Competition)

Libraries, archives and museums

Oxford's graduate students have access to an outstanding selection of over 100 libraries, archives of rare and ancient texts and objects, and unique, world-famous museums to support study and research.


Libraries and archives

The University's libraries range from iconic buildings with broad holdings, such as the Radcliffe Science Library housed in the famous Radcliffe Camera, to more specialist and individual subject libraries, such as the Alexander Library of Ornithology, and extensive digital resources and subscriptions that you can access from anywhere.

The Bodleian Libraries

Founded in 1602, the Bodleian Libraries are the largest collection of libraries in the UK, consisting of the Bodleian Library - which has been a legal deposit library for 400 years - as well as 30 other libraries across Oxford, including major research libraries and faculty, department and institute libraries. Together, the Bodleian Libraries hold more than 12 million printed items, over 80,000 e-journals and outstanding special collections attracting scholars from all over the world. 

The Bodleian provides students with direct access to high-demand print collections, increases online access to materials and takes the lead in digitising resources.

As a graduate student you’ll be issued with a reader's card ('Bod card') which will allow you access to the Bodleian Libraries as well as their e-resources, special collections and a host of services such as inter-library loans for materials held outside Oxford and help from specialist librarians. Members of staff and academic visitors are also entitled to access to the Bodleian Libraries using their university cards. 

Specialist libraries

Alongside the main collection of libraries, specialist libraries exist to provide outstanding collections for students to explore. We've highlighted just a few to show you the range in this incredibly diverse selection.

The Vere Harmsworth Library houses the University's principal research collection relating to the history of the United States. The library has an excellent collection of printed materials and houses several important research collections. It is also home to the Philip & Rosamund Davies US Elections Campaigns Archive, an extensive collection of campaign ephemera from US elections.

The Taylor Institution Library focusses on European language and literature, linguistics, film studies and women’s studies. 

The Alexander Library of Ornithology is one of the foremost ornithological reference libraries in the world.  It has a stock of around 11,000 books, 85,500 offprints/reports, 476 theses, around 500 current journals plus another 1,500 non-current journals.

The Sackler Library is an open-shelf lending library indispensable to anyone studying ancient history, archaeology and art; it is also extremely useful for those studying literature or philology. The Griffith Institute, located in a wing of the Sackler Library, is home to one of the most significant Egyptological archives in the world and two major research projects, the Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Statues, Reliefs and Paintings, and the Online Egyptological Bibliography. 

Libraries within academic departments

Academic departments and faculties also have their own libraries, offering specialist collections and services for students, including tailored research training and support. 

For example, the English Faculty Library holds over 110,000 volumes and a wide range of print journals, also providing regular information skills training to support teaching and research in English. The Latin American Centre houses an important collection of books, academic journals, periodicals and some other significant documents relevant for the study of the region.

College libraries

College libraries provide important resources to graduate students, a quiet, comfortable place to study with long opening hours (sometimes even 24/7) and easy access to your college's facilities. Some also hold specialist collections to support research centres or particular academic interests represented among the college's community of staff and students, or even archives of rarer materials like manuscripts and ancient texts.  

For example, the RESC Library at St Antony’s College comprises approximately 24,000 volumes in Russian on Russian, Soviet and post-Soviet history, literature, politics, and economics. The holdings also include a number of Russian newspapers and periodicals covering a similar range of subjects.

Digital resources and catalogues

SOLO (Search Oxford Libraries Online) is the main search engine for library collections across Oxford, providing access to information in over 100 Oxford libraries including around eight million bibliographic records and more than 13 million item records. It offers a one-stop search and delivery solution for quickly accessing Oxford’s main library information resources regardless of type, format or location. These include ORA (Oxford University Research Archive), OxLIP+ (currently over 800 e-resource databases) and OU E-Journals (over 28,000 e-journals). As a student you'll have easy self-service access to subscription resources, whether on- or off-campus through the SOLO website. You can find more information on finding resources at the Bodleian Libraries on their website.

Museums and collections

Oxford's outstanding museum resources have developed over centuries, supporting the evolution of the University as a world-renowned centre of knowledge and learning. 

In particular, the Ashmolean, Pitt Rivers Museum and Museum of Natural History are important centres for the research and display of artefacts and artworks within the University and the Ruskin has excellent connections with the museums' network of curators, facilities and holdings. Other outstanding resources for the academic community include the University's Botanic Garden, founded in 1621, the Museum of the History of Science, the world's oldest surviving purpose-built museum, and the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments, displaying over 1,000 historical instruments. 

Ashmolean Museum

The Ashmolean is the University’s Museum of Art and Archaeology. Opened in 1683, it is the oldest public museum in the world. The museum has incredibly rich and diverse collections from around the globe, ranging from Egyptian mummies and classical sculpture to the Pre-Raphaelites and modern art. Among its many riches are the world’s greatest collection of Raphael drawings, the most important collection of Egyptian pre-Dynastic sculpture and ceramics outside Cairo, the only great Minoan collection in Britain, outstanding Anglo-Saxon treasures, the most famous violin in the world, Stradivari’s Messiah, and the foremost collection of modern Chinese painting in the Western world. 

Visitor numbers are approaching one million every year, but the Ashmolean offers substantially more to Oxford's academic community. Graduate students in our Faculty of Oriental Studies, for example, are strongly encouraged to familiarise themselves the Ashmolean's collections, both on display and behind the scenes, and to consider working with a specific category of material in the museum for a special field or dissertation. Artefact classes for Egyptology undergraduates are held in the museum, and MPhil students are strongly encouraged to attend these where possible. 

Pitt Rivers Museum

The Pitt Rivers Museum cares for one of the world’s great collections of anthropology and world archaeology. Coming from all corners of the globe and all periods in human history, the collection not only includes great cultural treasures but also tens of thousands of everyday objects which illustrate the diversity of cultural solutions to the same basic problems that we all face as humans. This aspect is highlighted by the museum’s unique displays, which group artefacts primarily by type or function, rather than the particular culture or region from which the artefacts come. The artefact collection is complemented by an equally large and important collection of fieldwork and other photographs, along with audio recordings and manuscripts. 

The museum has its own library, the Balfour Library. 

Museum of Natural History

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History opened in 1860 as ‘a cathedral to science’ and is today a dynamic museum of outstanding national and international importance. Its growing collections underpin a broad programme of natural environment research, teaching and public engagement. Safeguarding over six million scientific specimens, the collections are organised into three separate collections: Life, Earth, and Library and Archives. They include the UK’s oldest surviving natural history collections, the world’s most complete remains of the extinct dodo and the earliest scientifically documented dinosaur remains. Only a small part of the collections is actually on public display, and the majority of specimens are held in a variety of on- and off-site stores.

Current research within the museum includes the Cambrian explosion and the evolutionary significance of Palaeozoic Lagerstätten (Derek Siveter, Paul Smith), insect taxonomy and ecosystem services (Darren Mann), crustacean taxonomy and systematics (Sammy De Grave), metamorphic petrology and thermobarometry (David Waters), and environmental archaeology (Mark Robinson). Related collections-based research is also undertaken in the adjacent Department of Earth Sciences, the Department of Zoology and the School of Archaeology. 

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