Books and Libraries

Sections on this page:

  • What Books should I buy?
  • How do I find the books I need?

What Books should I buy?

This is very much a matter of personal choice. In theory it should be possible to get by owning only a handful of books, since virtually everything you need can be found in one of the libraries and will not need to be referred to all the time. But such a minimalist collection would be extreme, and in practice only the most parsimonious students would wish to limit themselves to two or three volume; yet how much else you should buy depends both on your financial circumstances and on your long term aims: impecunious students wishing to spend as little as possible and having no intention of thinking about their subject beyond Finals will take a very different view from wealthier ones intending to make their subject a life-long interest and wishing to build up a personal collection of useful books.

If you fall into the former category you will obviously purchase as little as possible, whereas if you fall into the latter you will of course feel fully justified in buying anything that interests you. If you fall somewhere in between your best bet is to talk to people doing the same subject or options in the year above and find out what they found useful. In general, the most useful books to buy are often primary texts you will be working with repeatedly rather than secondary texts you will only be using for a single essay. General reference works or dictionaries relevant to your subject can also be worth owning.

How do I find the books I need?

The most sensible place to start is in the college library, this has a good collection of works in many subject areas so that you may often find that you need look no further for the books you require on your reading list. But this will not always be the case, and there will always be occasions when you need to look further afield. You can then save yourself a lot of unnecessary chasing around if you learn to use the OLIS system (it isn’t difficult and there’s a terminal in the college library).

After the college library perhaps the next most obvious library to search is your Faculty Library, which is very likely to have what you need unless someone else has borrowed it first. If your Faculty Library has most of its stock on OLIS you can check the availability of what you need from the college terminal before you go over there. If that fails, or if you don’t want to walk so far and you don’t mind working in a library you can’t borrow from, you can try the Bodleian (you will receive a booklet explaining how to use this daunting insitution when you register there shortly after arrival; you will have to find out from this where to find the open shelf collections relevant to your subject).

The more recent acquisitions to the Bodleian are catalogued on OLIS and so may be checked from any terminal, but older works (which may include many that appear on your reading lists) have to be looked up in the card catalogues. There may well be other libraries in Oxford relevant, or at least partially relevant, to the subject you are studying. Your subject tutors and students in the year above should be able to advise you on this.

It could well be worth your while investigating any such libaries at an early stage, in case you have to go through a registration procedure involving passport photographs and tutors’ signatures to use them, not something you want to have to face when the library in question has the only copy of a book you desperately need for tomorrow’s essay.