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In February 2020 the Radcliffe Science Library (RSL) team packed up their boxes, moved their books to the VHL and closed the doors on the RSL. This was to allow a thorough refurbishment of the building. Now more than three years later they will be reopening. Read more in this article from the RSL team.

One of the new working spaces in the RSL

The RSL is reopening to the staff and the students of the University of Oxford on Monday 9th October for Michaelmas Term 2023. Here, the RSL team outline what to expect.

Some things will be quite different: we’ll be sharing the building with our colleagues from Reuben College and our GLAM colleagues will have space in the basement for the Collections Teaching and Research Centre (CTRC). We have adapted the library area to make the best use of the space we have, based on the feedback from our readers. We’ll have casual seating areas, more group study rooms and flexibility within some of spaces such as in our Seminar Room. Also, we’ve listened to our readers comments and improved the WiFi. Some things will stay the same. We’ll still have a modern and diverse collection of print books on subjects in Mathematics, Physical and Life Science and medical Sciences. We’ll still have training room facilities and emerging technologies such as our 3D printing service. And we’ll still have a team of friendly, knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff who are happy to answer questions.

Will there still be books?

Although the majority of our collection has become electronic there will still be a substantial print book collection in the RSL. We’re used to adapting our collection over time. First the science collection was housed in the Radcliffe Camera and then moved to the University Museum. When the collection outgrew that space, a new building was constructed, containing the Jackson Wing in 1901.

Quiet Reading Room at the RSL, with refurbished Victorian ceiling and bookshelvesQuiet Reading Room at the RSL, with refurbished Victorian ceiling and bookshelves

That same wing, with its large windows and impressively decorated ceiling will contain our Quiet Reading Room. Our Informal Reading Room will now be located in the Worthington Wing, where quiet discussion will be encouraged with armchairs and a variety of different seating arrangements.

Throughout September the books from the science collection are being moved from the Vere Harmsworth Library back to the reading rooms by the very capable Bodleian Book Moving team. Other titles will be moved from our offsite storage facility to be permanently housed in the RSL. Our readers told us that they wanted to borrow more books so we have made over 6000 titles borrowable. The vast majority of our collection can now be borrowed.

Pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable

More spaces for collaborative workingMore spaces for collaborative workingStudents told us that they wanted more group study rooms and areas to chat with their friends so we have provided them. There will be four group study rooms in the RSL, as well as a large Seminar Room that can all be booked. We’ll also have casual seating areas (breakout areas) on the ground floor and lower ground floor that feature armchairs and sofas to allow relaxation between study sessions. More traditional study spaces will be available in the reading rooms whether you prefer to sit in an arm chair under a lamp or work quietly in the at a decorative Victorian table in the Jackson Wing. Accessibility and comfort have been at the forefront of our design meaning we have a space to suit most people.

Students also told us that they wanted to eat and drink in the library. In the areas outside the Reading Rooms you can eat and drink as much as you like. Whether it’s picking up snacks from our vending machines or using our hot water facilities to make your own tea and coffee you can keep yourself fuelled for study in the RSL. We’ll be providing tea and coffee for the first few weeks of term so you can try it out yourself.


Along with being a space for study and research the Radcliffe Science Library is also a place for the University of Oxford community, particularly our MPLS and MSD community. To support the needs of our student and staff communities, in line with the University Strategic Plan, the RSL refurbishment has made space for a Wellbeing Room. Wellbeing is an area growing in importance in universities and many other libraries have incorporated wellbeing rooms, especially since the pandemic.

A range of activities are available in the Wellbeing roomA range of activities are available in the Wellbeing room

The Wellbeing Room features comfortable sofas, armchairs and bean bags as well as a table where people can sit to craft or play games. You are welcome to bring your own or try out a new hobby from the equipment in the room. We have knitting, crochet, origami, modelling clay, Lego, board games and colouring in. Alternatively, if you’d prefer a quieter experience why not play with one of our fidget toys, curl up under a weighted blanket or try the noise cancelling headphones. If you’d prefer some leisure reading we also have that on hand. The room will house our Wellbeing Collection which includes self help books, poetry, books on mental health, comic books and novels.

We’ll be running a programme of events focussed on wellbeing throughout the term. More details to follow but highlights include: Lego lunchtimes, nature walks and colouring in. Make sure to follow our social media and library website to get updates on our activities.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

As part of the RSL refurbishment, we have been working on a new Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion project, where we asked for students and staff of the university to recommend scientific figures for inclusion in our new portraiture around the library. Our blog post has more details.

This collection of portraiture includes deceased scientists, some well-known and others lesser known, spanning from the 16th to the 21st centuries. They represent various aspects of inclusion through their career choices, achievements, and personal characteristics. You will encounter their gaze in several locations within the library, primarily in the reading rooms above doors, and at the end of bookcases housing works related to the subjects they worked on. We will also display members of the university selected from our nomination call who have made outstanding contributions to support equality, diversity, and inclusion in the medical and mathematical, physical, and life sciences divisions.

Along with the portrait of Dr. John Radcliffe, who the library is named after, we will have an inclusive selection of portraiture that reflects the diversity of the modern Oxford University. We hope that the RSL will be an inspiring place for study and reflection, where you feel welcome, valued, and respected.

Dame Janet Maria Vaughan ­­

Dame Janet Maria Vaughan (pictured here) researched haematology and radiation pathology. Her portrait, along with that of Nelson Awori, the first African doctor to perform a kidney transplant and many others, will be displayed in the RSL.

Image originally by Elliott & Fry, reproduced by National Portrait Gallery, London. Licensed under CC BY NC ND 3.0 licence


Take a look around

“All things must change, To something new, to something strange”

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Kéramos (1878), line 32

We’ve only covered a handful of features of the newly refurbished RSL. There’s more to see and explore so come in during Michaelmas Term and take a look for yourself. We’d love to know what you think. Tell our staff in the library what you think or let us know on twitter or by emailing