Somerville College Library

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Somerville College Library
Somerville College Library.jpg
CountryUnited Kingdom
TypeAcademic library
Established1903 (1903)
LocationWoodstock Road, Oxford
Coordinates51°45′33.8″N 1°15′47.1″W / 51.759389°N 1.263083°W / 51.759389; -1.263083Coordinates: 51°45′33.8″N 1°15′47.1″W / 51.759389°N 1.263083°W / 51.759389; -1.263083
Somerville College Library is located in Oxford city centre
Somerville College Library
Location in Oxford city centre

Somerville College Library is the college library of Somerville College, one of the 38 colleges of the University of Oxford. The library is the biggest college library of the University of Oxford[citation needed] and has with 100% the highest library satisfaction according to the annual student surveys.[1]

Somerville College Library is situated north of the main quadrangle, opposite to Somerville College Chapel. It is open 24 hours a day, has Wi-Fi, several study rooms and computers. The library is a Grade II-listed building.[2]


The Edwardian building was built in 1903 and designed by Sir Basil Champneys. It was officially opened in 1904 by John Morley. Specially for this opening, Demeter was written by Robert Bridges and performed for the first time. Somerville College Library was the first library for women at the University of Oxford and among the very first college libraries built at Oxford with the needs of the undergraduate rather than the fellows in mind.[3]

During the First World War, Somerville college became a hospital for convalescing officers and the library was a popular place for beds to be placed, overlooking the gardens. Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves were both to reminisce of their time at Somerville Hospital.

Indira Gandhi had her room in the building, before the ground floor was added to the library in 1974.[3]


The library has a collection of approximately 2,000 books from the philosopher and women's rights activist John Stuart Mill and his father James Mill, the so-called John Stuart Mill Library, donated in 1905.[4] The books contain many notes from Mill himself, which are examined by the University of Alabama and Oxford.[5][6] Other notable donations or collections are from Amelia Edwards, Robert Bridges, John Ruskin, William Morris, Vernon Lee, Mary Lascelles and alumnae Vera Brittain, Margery Fry, Margaret Kennedy, Vivien Noakes and Muriel St. Clare Byrne.[7][8] The library also manages letters from Ada Lovelace, notes from Mary Somerville and a letter from Charles Babbage addressed to Somerville. These are stored however in the Bodleian Library.[9] The library contains paintings by Mary Somerville, John Constable, Maud Sumner and Patrick George.[10]

The special collection include one of the first editions of a Gustave Doré illustrated Divine Comedy by Dante published by Hachette Livre from 1861, a print of the Divine Comedy from 1578 with 15th century commentary, a print of the work by Geoffrey Chaucer from 1570, an English translation of Giambattista della Porta's Magia Naturalis from 1658 and a copy of the second edition of Isaac Newton's Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica from 1713.

In 1903 the library was built to contain about 60,000 books, while it possessed only 6,000, to allow for future growth.[11] At the time female students had no access to other libraries of the university. Today, the library contains approximately 120,000 books.



  1. ^ "Library & IT — Somerville College Oxford". Retrieved 2018-06-28.
  2. ^ "SOMERVILLE COLLEGE, LIBRARY". Historic England. Retrieved 1 September 2018.
  3. ^ a b Manuel, Anne (2013). Breaking New Ground: A History of Somerville College as seen through its Buildings. Oxford: Somerville College. p. 15.
  4. ^ "John Stuart Mill Library Project — Somerville College Oxford". Retrieved 2018-06-28.
  5. ^ JS Mill scribbles reveal he was far from a chilly Victorian intellectual, The Guardian, April 30, 2018
  6. ^ John Stuart Mill's marginalia tells us much about the great thinker's mind, The Conversation, April 30, 2018
  7. ^ "Special Collections". Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  8. ^ "Special collections in Oxford college libraries". Bodleian Library. Retrieved 29 August 2018.
  9. ^ Catalog or the Mary Somerville Collection, (c.1700) -1972, University of Oxford, Bodleian Library, March 15, 2013
  10. ^ "Somerville College, University of Oxford". Art UK. Retrieved 30 March 2019.
  11. ^ "Beginnings". Retrieved 20 September 2018.

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