Old Library

The Old Library is a large collection of printed books covering a wide range of topics including theology, philosophy, classics, history, law, mathematics, geography and medicine. It comprises the 20,000 or so books acquired by the Library by the end of the 18th century (mainly, though not entirely, out of the University’s own funds) and it is now regarded as a special collection in its own right.

History and growth of the collection

16th century

Various documents preserved in the University Archives show that by the end of the 16th century the Library was a small establishment, though it had already attracted important gifts and bequests from, for example, the great Scots humanist, George Buchanan (1506-1582), and from James Boyd (d. 1581), Archbishop of Glasgow.

17th century

A hundred or so years later, in 1691, two almost identical copies of a press catalogue of the Library were prepared in manuscript, which indicate the Library holding some 3,300 volumes, including 75 incunabula. Most of these books still survive with their 17th-century press-marks (shelf-marks) written on their title pages. The 1691 catalogue (to which additions were made up to about 1714) gives an insight both into the organization of the Library and into the curriculum of a Scottish university at the end of the 17th century: theology, philosophy, classics, history, law, mathematics, geography and a little medicine are all represented. Vernacular literature (apart from a first edition of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene) is noticeably absent.

18th century

By 1791, when Professor Archibald Arthur's (1744-1797) first published catalogue of the Library appeared, the book stock had risen to some 20,000 volumes. Part of this increase is to be explained by the fact that the Library enjoyed the copyright privilege from 1710 onwards. In practice, however, the Library experienced difficulties in getting publishers and printers to acknowledge its right to free copies of books and the copyright privilege was surrendered in 1836.

19th century

Also in the 19th century, various class and departmental libraries, which had themselves originated in the preceding century, were transferred to the main library and are now regarded as supplementary collections to the Old Library. Particularly important are the collections which formed the Anatomy and Medical Class Libraries, the Divinity Hall Library, the Greek and Latin Class Library, the Ethic Class Library, the Mathematical and Natural Philosophy Class Libraries.

How to find materials from the Old Library collection

  • Books in this collection are catalogued with shelf-marks beginning DK, DL, DM etc. to DO; NE, NF etc. to NS (excepting NI); 81, 82, 83 etc. to 86; and Bh (parts of), Bi, Bk etc. to Bo. A list of titles may be explored by using the shelf-mark option of the rare books search (e.g. type "Sp Coll Bk" to bring up a list of all books with this shelf-mark; or type "Sp Coll DO" to create a list of books in this particular sequence).  
  • Archibald Arthur, Catalogus impressorum librorum in Bibliotheca Universitatis Glasguensis, secundum literarum ordinem dispositus (Glasgow, 1791).
  • Catalogus librorum Bibliothecae Universitatis Glasguensis anno 1691. Manuscript: MS Gen 1312 & 1313 (see web exhibition giving background to the Old Library catalogue)
  • John Durkan, "The early history of Glasgow University Library, 1475-1710", The Bibliotheck, 8 (1977), pp. 102-126.
  • Hester M. Black, "Archbishop Law's books in Glasgow University Library", The Bibliotheck, 3 (1961), pp. 107-121. "Supplement", The Bibliotheck, 5 (1967), pp. 100-101.
  • Audrey Nairn, "A 1731 copyright list from Glasgow University Archives", The Bibliotheck, 2 (1959), pp. 30-32.

See also the following 'book of the month' articles that feature items from the Old Library collection: