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Image showing a view of the Old College (Glasgow University) from Slezer's Thatrum Scotiae, London, 1693 (Sp Coll Bi8-a.1)






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Image showing a view of the Old College (Glasgow University) from Slezer's Thatrum Scotiae, London, 1693 (Sp Coll Bi8-a.1)

The 1691 Catalogue of Glasgow University Library


The “Catalogue” is more properly a shelf list. Glasgow University Library, then as now, was classified, at least up to a point; books deemed by a Librarian or Librarians to ‘belong’ together, were placed on the same shelf.


The 1691 order of the books is actually very similar to other libraries of the period: the Bibliothèque publique et universitaire in Geneva for one, Trinity College Cambridge for another.  This classification uses the usual 23 letter alphabet of the period, excluding J, and U, and, in this case, with W doing duty as V. The first alphabetical sequence deals with the Bible, followed by what we would now call Biblical criticism.  The Greek and Latin Fathers follow, and then the Councils of the Church, then back to more patristics and ritual. The catalogue goes on to classify scholastics, then Reformed, followed by Catholic biblical commentary; "didactic" theology, perhaps equivalent to practical theology then lots of ‘polemic’ of various hues follows, and finally Church History. Non theological subjects commence the second sequence, with sizeable chunks of non-Church history and Philosophy. A "Miscellaneous" section follows, then the works donated by John Snell (1629-1679), founder of the Snell exhibitions at Balliol College Oxford, and finally more practical theology.

The classification system used in Glasgow University Library in 1691. Current evidence suggests that categories in sections BA-BS were added later that 1691

While only certain sections of the catalogue have been studied in detail, the order immediately suggests a striking thing about the Library: the Glasgow University Library stock corresponds to the strong orientation of the University towards Divinity.  Current evidence suggests that categories in BA-BS were all added later than 1691; this means that of the remainder, 191 pages are devoted to Theology and Divinity alone, and only 156 pages to all the rest.

The bulk of the work appears to have been done as a single exercise, with a degree of correction being carried out shortly after the main job was finished. However, no working library catalogue remains static, and many additions were made after 1691. In seeking to establish what the Library was like when the decision was made to provide this new listing, we have to take the additions into account, if only to exclude them. This means identifying self-evident post 1691 additions (e.g. anything published after that date) and making further judgements (e.g. on the basis of the hands used to insert the additions) on the other books from before 1691, which were nonetheless added after that date.

Section AI (Philosophici) from MS Gen 1312, shows entries for 22 books in five different hands. Follow hyperlink for a larger image.

This page, for the sixth shelf up in Section AI (Philosophici) has entries for 22 books dating from 1565 to 1704, with 11 dating from 1691 or later, in five hands, corresponding to the sections indicated on the right hand image. It seems quite possible that none of them was in the Library, or at least in the catalogue to start with, and that this shelf had been left empty to allow for expansion, with books added, probably at five different times, corresponding to the different hands. Additions were made to the catalogue until well into the Eighteenth Century.


The basic format of a catalogue entry is illustrated by page 106 from Section S (one of a large number of ‘Polemici’), ‘Forulus’ 5, number 5 - that is Section S, the fifth shelf up, and the fifth book along (Sp Coll Bk8-i.12). It reads:

Peiter De Moulein’s buckler of faith Gall: Printed at Charmtoun 1619 in 8vo.

It: Peiter De Moulein’s Examen against Arnout’s the Jesuit: Ibid.

Some fundamental features of the catalogue are revealed here: the cataloguers as a general rule avoided any language other than Latin or Scots - thus here, while the entry is in Scots, we have an indication that the book itself is in French - ‘Gall.’  Another feature of the catalogue emerges here: the cataloguers did not attempt to provide a transcript of the title - instead they said what the book was.  A place of publication is also usually provided; in this case the 1691 scribe errs in transcribing the French place name "Charenton".  A date of publication is usually given and an indication of size is nearly always provided by a statement of the format.


Entry number 5 from Section S (Polemici), Peiter De Moulein's Buckler of faith, is a good example of the basic format for catalogue entries

Image showing a view of the Old College (Glasgow University) from Slezer's Thatrum Scotiae, London, 1693 (Sp Coll Bi8-a.1) Go to: Library layout

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