Oxford University’s stunning new Weston Library

The brand new Weston Library, home to Oxford University’s most important books, opened in March 2015, after a dynamic three-year redevelopment of the building formerly known as the New Bodleian.

The New Bodleian, a Grade II listed building built in the 1930s, became full after just 30 years. This led to books being stored off site, which proved expensive and impractical. In addition, the New Bodleian was not able to meet modern archiving standards, so a radical renovation project to create a new library – the Weston – was set in motion in 2011.

One of the key objectives of the project was to safeguard the 2.5 million volumes making up the Library’s special collections, including Shakespeare’s First Folio and four copies of the Magna Carta. Other objectives included modernising the outdated and energy-inefficient facilities and making the Library accessible to all, without compromising the historic building.

Year one

Emptying the New Bodleian of its books and furniture required the support of specialist curators and conservationists. The books were sent to the University’s new book depository at Swindon. Once cleared, the entire middle of the building was demolished and significant structural modifications carried out.

Year two

This stage of the project involved the reconstruction of a new centre for the building using Jura limestone. A concrete frame was built first, followed by work to the east and west cores to carry the load of the building. Finally, new concrete floors and walls were created. 

Year three

The final year saw full refurbishment of the building, from laying flooring and installing lighting systems and lifts to repairing the Library’s old clocks. Extensive work was carried out by the Estates Services’ Joiners team to restore the original Gilbert Scott furniture.

The security of the bookshelves and reading areas was upgraded with the installation of a bank vault for the Library’s most precious collections, a new swipe card system and CCTV. The 40km of new book stacks were protected with humidity control, fire-fighting suppression and mist systems.

Weston Library - Image by John Cairns

The result

The stunning new £80 million facility has 11 storeys, including three basement areas.  It houses three state-of-the-art reading rooms, a visiting scholar centre, a lecture theatre and a seminar room.

A major feature of the building is a new public space comprising an exquisite atrium, café and exhibition spaces. From here visitors can view a quadrangle of bookshelves on the floor above, exposed thanks to a new double-height ceiling and a windowed gallery.

Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian says, ‘In a city full of libraries, this is one of the most significant and exciting library transformations for many years.

‘We are particularly delighted to be able to welcome the public into the Weston Library, to help them appreciate and enjoy the collections built up by the University over centuries, and to engage  with the ground-breaking research which surrounds these collections in Oxford.’ 

Sustainability was a crucial factor of the project. Over 140 tons of salvaged stone were reused in the new facades and thermal tubes were installed in the roof to pre-heat water through solar power.

Director of Estates, Paul Goffin says, ‘This project has provided an amazing opportunity to transform a significant building into a world class facility for everyone – students, staff and members of the public. 

‘We’re proud that the project has already been shortlisted for several awards and that it is a finalist in Building Magazine’s Project of the Year.’

Published August 2015