Schilflied (Reed Song, 1845) by Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847). Photo credit Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Philanthropy Report 2019/20

Conserving precious collections at the Bodleian


The Bodleian Libraries are home to more than 13 million printed items, over 80,000 e-journals, and outstanding special collections including rare books and manuscripts, classical papyri, maps, music, art and printed ephemera. Not only are these holdings a vital resource for Oxford’s students and researchers, they are also regularly accessed by audiences from around the world for academic study or for personal interest.

The Bodleian’s manuscripts and archives are more heavily used than at any previous time in its history, exposing these items to inevitable wear and tear. To ensure that they can continue to be used and enjoyed by future generations, the Bodleian this year launched an appeal to raise £40,000 to help conserve and digitise some of its treasured and rare manuscript and archive collections.

Almost £67,000 was generously given by 295 supporters, surpassing the Bodleian’s original target. These donations will help fund the conservation of the Mendelssohn collection, which includes 27 fragile volumes or ‘Green Books’ of Mendelssohn’s correspondence – a key resource for musicologists and musicians, and for scholars interested in the Romantic movement more broadly.

A highly-decorated miniature Mughal painting inside the Douce Album
  The Douce Album is the Bodleian’s finest album of Mughal miniature paintings and calligraphy (MS. Douce Or. a. 1.). Photo credit Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

After the appeal was featured in The Times, a single donor was able to fund the conservation of a rare 17th-century Mughal miniature collection. Known as ‘The Douce Album’, the manuscript of exquisite miniature paintings and calligraphy was originally assembled for a member of the imperial family of Shah Shuja.

Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian, said: ‘As well as funding essential conservation treatments – ensuring these rare and important manuscripts can be safely handled, studied and displayed – these donations will allow the Bodleian to improve its digitised collections and provide access to these rich resources for scholars and researchers working around the world.’

While the Bodleian had been closed to ‘in person’ visits for a period during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, people across the globe were still able to access its digitised holdings, underlining the importance of both conserving and digitising these irreplaceable items.


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