AN opportunity to see ancient texts and priceless manuscripts is being offered as one of the world’s oldest libraries throws open its doors.

The treasures of Oxford’s Bodleian Library will go on show from today, offering a rare glimpse of the millions of items kept on the shelves.

Seventy items have been handpicked by library staff to show off some of the Bodleian’s most treasured possessions.

Exhibition curator Stephen Hebron said: “It is something that we are doing in preparation for the refurbishment of the new Bodleian building, which will have a permanent exhibition gallery. It is la crème de la crème of the Bodleian.

“A lot of these things are so fragile – you would need a very good reason, even as a researcher, to come and look at them because they are so difficult to handle.”

The items on show include part of Jane Austen’s first draft of her unpublished novel The Watsons, which is going on show for the first time since it was bought at auction earlier this year.Marco Polo’s travel manuscript from the 14th century, the Codex Mendoza – a 16th-century account of life with pictographs by an Aztec artist – and a handwritten draft of war poet Wilfred Owen’s Anthem For Doomed Youth will also be on display.

Mr Hebron said: “It’s impossible to pick out one favourite item, because there is nothing there that doesn’t excite me.

“I think there is something for everybody; arts, science, literature, music, plants and animals are represented.”

The free exhibition runs until December 23 in the exhibition room at the Bodleian’s Old Schools Quad, Catte Street.

The public will be invited to have their say about which of the items should be included in the permanent exhibition of treasures.

Bodley’s Librarian Sarah Thomas said: “We are delighted to be able to put on public display a selection of the Bodleian’s greatest treasures.

This is just a preview of what the Weston Library will offer the public when it opens in 2015.

“We want our collections to be accessible to the public, for people to come and see them, admire, inspect and get close to them. We want them to become part of the public vocabulary.”

* A special website – treasures.bodleian. – and a free mobile app accompany the exhibition, featuring all the items on display and a few extras.