Book pages being burned on the ground.

Event information

15 Dec 2020


Online event

Please note this is an online event and will require you to use the video conferencing system Zoom.

These events are free however donations are greatly appreciated.

Join Richard Ovenden, director of the world-famous Bodleian Libraries, as he discusses his new publication, Burning the Books, with artist, writer and creator of the Museum's current library of exile installation, Edmund de Waal.

Their conversation will explore the historic destruction of libraries and archives, many of the names of which are written into the walls of the library of exile.

As Ovenden explains, libraries are far more than stores of literature. Through preserving legal documents such as Magna Carta and records of citizenship, they also support the rule of law and the rights of citizens. Today, the knowledge they hold on behalf of society is under attack as never before.

Burning the Books is a history of knowledge under attack and explores everything from what really happened to the Great Library of Alexandria to the destruction of the landing records of the Windrush generation, from Donald Trump's deleted Tweets to the publisher John Murray's burning of Lord Byron's memoirs. It is at once a powerful history of civilisation and a manifesto for the vital importance of physical libraries in an increasingly digital age.

Burning the Books is also a very human story, detailing the heroic lengths people have gone to in order to preserve and rescue knowledge – and ensure its survival.

To attend this online event

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About the speakers

Richard Ovenden has been Bodley's Librarian (the senior Executive position of the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford) since 2014. Prior to that he held positions at Durham University Library, the House of Lords Library, the National Library of Scotland, and the University of Edinburgh. He moved to the Bodleian in 2003 as Keeper of Special Collections, becoming Deputy Librarian in 2011. He was educated at the University of Durham and University College London, and holds a Professorial Fellowship at Balliol College, Oxford. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, the Royal Society of Arts, and a Member of the American Philosophical Society. He was awarded the OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours 2019. Richard serves as Treasurer of the Consortium of European Research Libraries, as President of the Digital Preservation Coalition, and as a member of the Board of the Council on Library and Information Resources (in Washington DC). He has written extensively on the history of the book, the history of photography and on current concerns in the library, archive and information worlds.

Edmund de Waal

Edmund de Waal is an artist who writes. Much of his work is about the contingency of memory: bringing particular histories of loss and exile into renewed life. Both his artistic and written practices have broken new ground through their critical engagement with the history and potential of ceramics, as well as with architecture, music, dance and poetry. De Waal continually investigates themes of diaspora, memorial, materiality and the colour white with his interventions and artworks made for diverse spaces and museums worldwide. His library of exile installation was created as a 'space to sit and read and be' and houses more than 2,000 books in translation, written by exiled authors.

Privacy policy

Privacy policy

The personal data you provide to us on the event booking form is being collected so that we can administer the event efficiently and, if necessary, contact you with important updates about the event. It will only be used by the British Museum for this purpose, it will not be shared with any third parties and it will be securely deleted as soon as the event has ended. This privacy information does not apply to the processing of your personal data by Zoom which will be governed by the terms of the agreement made between you and Zoom when you subscribed for their service.