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ArticlesWinter 2010

Summer in Oxford

Vanderbilt expert consults on Bodleian’s Hispanic collection

Editor’s note: Latin American bibliographer and senior lecturer Paula Covington is considered an international expert in her field. Chancellor’s Professor of Spanish William Luis describes her as an “indispensable cornerstone of our departments and programs.” Dean of Libraries Connie V. Dowell said, “The bridges that Paula has built to our faculty and students serves as a model for librarians everywhere. At the same time, she has been the driving force behind an internationally acclaimed collection. It is no surprise that Oxford and other universities recognize her remarkable talents that have served Vanderbilt so well.”

Paula Covington reaches out to the statue of William Herbert, the third Earl of Pembroke and a major benefactor of the Bodleian Library. A Latin inscription with the statue (not shown) reads, “Academicians at Oxford! Thomas Bodley (the library’s key benefactor who also gave it his name)  has built this library for you and the Republic of the Learned. May the gift turn out well.”

Paula Covington reaches out to the statue of William Herbert, the third Earl of Pembroke and a major benefactor of the Bodleian Library. A Latin inscription with the statue (not shown) reads, “Academicians at Oxford! Thomas Bodley (the library’s key benefactor who also gave it his name) has built this library for you and the Republic of the Learned. May the gift turn out well.”

When the Oxford rail station loudspeaker boomed out “Mind the gap, please,” I knew I was really back in England. The heads of two groups of Oxford’s University Libraries had invited me for a consultancy for the Bodleian and other libraries that make up the university’s library system. My project was to help review their Hispanic collections and the steps they might take to better serve their readers.

Over the summer, I met with more than 40 faculty, staff and students while working primarily in the Taylor Institution, the Latin American Centre and the Social Sciences libraries. Key Latin American and Iberian academics shared their research needs, particularly in the areas of the social sciences and humanities. I reviewed the libraries’ recent collections, their approval plans for Latin American, Iberian and Caribbean countries, and their journals and electronic resources. They also asked me to prepare an extensive set of recommendations to share with the new subject specialists they expect to appoint.

It was not always hardship duty. Most academics wanted to meet at their college over lunch, which often meant a dining room with silver napkin rings and a high table, or even a private oak-paneled dining room.

The experience has left me with many fond memories, from tea in the garden of a knight and his lady, to a garden party at the famous Encaenia ceremony, where hundreds of academics arrayed like peacocks paraded in their colorful academic robes, to biking daily to work where I found welcoming colleagues specializing in Italian, Middle Eastern Studies, or Frisian linguistics! Although I’m back at Vanderbilt, I will miss being part of that other world.

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