Colin Harris
Colin Harris with his honorary degree

Honorary degree awarded to Bodleian’s long-serving superintendent

Matt Pickles

In 1967, the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Ronald Reagan became governor of California and, towards the end of the Summer of Love, Colin Harris started work at the Bodleian Library.

Fifty years later, now superintendent of the Bodleian’s Special Collections Reading Rooms, Mr Harris has received a prestigious honorary degree from the University of Oxford.

At the ceremony at the Sheldonian Theatre on 18 July, he was praised for his ”truly dedicated service to all types of library reader – from senior academics to masters' students, professional writers to amateur historians – whom he has advised with expertise and unfailing patience."

Mr Harris joined the Bodleian Library in 1967. He worked in the Duke Humfrey's Reading Room from 1968 and in the Modern Papers Reading Room in the New Bodleian from 1980.

Today, he holds the role of Superintendent of the Special Collections Reading Rooms in the Weston Library within the Bodleian Libraries.

Mr Harris, who will retire at the end of September, says the Library has been through some dramatic changes during his tenure.

‘We have gone from card index, handwritten and typewritten catalogues available only in the Library to online catalogues available worldwide on the Internet; from a typing pool serving all staff to everyone having a PC and able to type their own letters and now emails,’ he says.

‘Our readership has become much more international – for many years we were visited in great numbers from the US, Canada and Western Europe, but now researchers travel from all parts, especially from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia, China and Japan.

‘We have also got an impressive social media presence and we promote wide-ranging activities such as lectures, exhibitions on diverse subjects show-casing the Library’s great wealth of collections and research opportunities such as fellowships that are available in the Bodleian Libraries.’

But he says the quality of service provided by the Bodleian has been continuous throughout his distinguished career there.

‘Throughout, the Library has gone to great lengths to further research, responding to the particular needs of the researcher and providing a very personal service’.

‘I am minded of the readers’ typing room used by researchers such as Denis Mack Smith, who died recently, and of the nascent inter-library loan system of the 1970s so efficiently established by my late wife Susan (then Susan James), which was used to great advantage by the late Sir Isaiah Berlin.’