A BUSINESS estate on the edge of Swindon may seem an odd place to find Oxford University celebrating a historic moment for one of its greatest institutions.

But university vice-chancellor, Prof Andrew Hamilton, marked a new chapter in the 400-year history of the Bodleian by getting on to a forklift truck to officially open the library’s new £26m book storage facility.

Over the next year, nearly six million books will be moved to South Marston. They will arrive from a salt mine in Cheshire, a store in Nuneham Courtenay, near Abingdon, and, of course, Oxford.

The exercise is the biggest book move since the Bodleian first opened its doors to scholars in 1602.

Maps, manuscripts, newspapers, periodicals and microfilm will also be stored in a vast purpose-built modern warehouse, equivalent in size to 1.6 pitches, close to the A420.

To hold this vast quantity of material has required creating 153 miles of shelving – and, with space for 8.5m volumes, it will provide a solution to the space problems of a library that receives around 1,000 new books every working day.

The need to find storage space became increasingly urgent when the Bodleian’s costly plans to build a giant book depository in Oxford’s Osney Mead estate were thrown out by Oxford City Council. Councillors said the planned building would be “overbearing and have adverse impact on a conservation area”.

Bodley’s Librarian Sarah Thomas is delighted at the speed of events, when instead of thinking outside the box, the Bodleian began to think outside the Oxford ring road.

Dr Thomas said: “One of the most satisfying things over the last few weeks has been encountering people from across the university, who asked, ‘Have you started building the new storage facility yet?’ It’s marvellous to be able to say: ‘It’s done.’.”

For Dr Thomas the giant storage facility has served two important functions.

“It will prove a long-awaited solution to the space problem that has long challenged the Bodleian.,” she said.

“Now we can look to the future with confidence that we are preserving one of the world’s most complete records of the written world.”