Bodleian Libraries

The Bodleian Libraries were founded in 1602 and developed in the context of the growing British Empire. As the principal research libraries of the University of Oxford, the Bodleian and its collections reflect the history of the University’s engagement with that Empire.

Today, the Libraries preserves and manages globally relevant collections for the benefit of an international community of users. It engages with colonialism through acquisitions, by supporting curricula reform and, more broadly, through inclusive public engagement projects. The Libraries recognises that its collections are deeply implicated in the history of Empire and of Britain’s colonial legacy, and there is much work still to be done. 

People and research:

The Libraries looks forward to the appointment in 2021 of a 31 month-long Mellon funded post to develop strategies, policies, and approaches to issues of race, ethnicity, and legacies of Empire in the collections, staffing, and services of the Libraries.

The academic year 2021/22 will see the establishment of an annual Black History Fellowship to identify and research collections of interest at the Bodleian.


The Bodleian has reviewed its collection development policies and purchased new resources through the two-year project, Changing the Narrative: championing inclusive collection development.

The Bodleian Libraries also commits to supporting academic-led decolonisation of curricula in a collaborative way. This includes providing access to teaching materials in decolonised and inclusive reading lists via Oxford Reading Lists Online.

Supporting diversity through public engagement:

Through its public programming the Bodleian Libraries supports current research and debate around issues of colonialism. At the same time, the Bodleian is working to embed socially engaged practice and reflective models of engagement in which we consult and learn from different stakeholders. In particular, we are committed to co-curation models as a way to include diverse perspectives on the collections.  Recent examples include:

  1. A partnership with the Museum of Colour in a National Lottery Heritage Funded project to support the creation of a virtual exhibition People of Letters.
  2. A new partnership with the Museum of Colour funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to create an exhibition exploring the history of coercion at the intersection of race, Empire and Bodleian collections.
  3. The project Languages of God: sacred scripts of Ethiopia and Eritrea piloted a new model of collaborative working with specific communities.