To BodleiNyan or not to BodleiNyan

A major reason we’re in Oxford is so Nyan can find and read unique papers by C.S. Lewis at the Bodleian Library (Generally pronounced Bod (as in body)-lee-en (en as in enter) part 2 coming shortly) and pursue, in depth, some of the studies (specifically a paper) that he had had to set aside for a long season.

Speaking of setting aside, let’s set aside the Bodleian for a second. Do you know what a Catch 22 is? In our little family, a Catch 22 is one of our favorite dilemmas. It was coined in one of Nyan’s favorite books, “Catch 22.” The definition sounds complex: “an impossible situation where you are prevented from doing one thing until you have done another thing that you cannot do until you have done the first thing:” (def.Cambrdige Dictionary)

It’s easiser to understand by example:

“I cannot get a job unless I have job experience, but I can’t get any experience until I have a job to get job experience at.”

Getting into the Bodleian Library Special Collection is a little bit of a catch 22 for an independent researcher. If you have a supervising professor’s signature on your application paperwork, filing the form is enough.

Independent researches get in by going through a short interview to prove that access to the Bodleian (Special Collections, in Nyan’s case) is something they actually need. If Nyan’s list of requested documents could all be found elsewhere, in other bookstores or libraries, they would simply tell him to go elsewhere. The question is how could Nyan know the title and content of an unpublished scrap of paper that’s only available at the Bodleian?

In other words, getting into the Bodleian is a bit of a Catch 22 for the independent researcher (or it’s just fun to think of it that way): If you wish to access special collections at the library come armed with a short list of content you’d like to read, but since the papers have never been published you likely won’t know what to request unless you can access special collections…but you can’t access special collections to find what you’re looking for unless you already know what you’re looking for…and on we go.

It’s not a terribly challenging trouble. The Bodleian has the much greater struggle of trying to keep irreplaceable ancient documents both accessible for the pursuit of knowledge and intact. Ensuring that access to the documents is given to only those who really do need access for research is one reasonable method.

The way around the Bodleian Catch 22 for the Independent Researcher is, of course, much research beforehand. Nyan read books referencing some Bodleian documents (The quoted fragments in those books were what clued him in that the Bodleian might be the resource he needed in the first place). Book references come with the challenge of identifying documents for request: an author usually refers to a fragment with a title, while the actual Bodliean fragment is filed under a reference number. For example, the list of C.S. Lewis’ collected papers at the Bodleian looks like this (a series reference numbers) online, but a fragment Nyan wished to look at was called “The Lefay Fragment.

Another route to use is interviewing someone with experience for names of documents, etc. to help you get the foot in the door and begin your research. In other words, no independent researcher can be truly independent; in general, relying on the wisdom of others who’ve traveled a similar before you is key to research success.

Nyan had help he was grateful for: A former professor suggested a short story by Lewis that Nyan would find useful for his paper’s topic. It was a rare manuscript, so Nyan was able to add it to his request list to pass his interview. We also found a wonderfully thorough blogger who listed the series of steps required to gain entry to the Bodleian and also helpfully offered to message Nyan with “C.S. Lewis Papers: A Selective Catalogue” (A list of Lewis’ special collections papers found at the Bodleian) which is helpful because the list can only be otherwise seen in special collections. It was an excellent head start!

In the end of course, Nyan obtained his reader’s card with little trouble and has spent 3 weeks+ immersed in the Bodleian, endlessly going through Lewis papers. Each day he requests another “box of Lewis papers” and in 24 hours it’s waiting for him to soak up, many papers in Lewis’s own hand. It is definitely his cup of tea.

Well that was a bit of a summary, pics and more info. coming, so here’s a sketch of Nyan studying (or drawing?) and Bean snuggling and peaceful (for a likely 30 seconds).

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