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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)






Library layout


Library Stock





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

Library stock

Nearly 3500 entries have been transcribed to date, each one corresponding to a volume on the old shelves. It is difficult to say what proportion of these entries correspond to what we would nowadays call a ‘bibliographical unit’ - or ‘publication’, since multi-volume works have an entry per volume, as where the five volumes of Plantin’s famous polyglot Bible (Sp Coll Bm6-a.1-5) each have an entry. Furthermore up to 20 or more pamphlets may be bound together, and thus listed as one entry. Rather more than 400 of these entries are probably for books acquired after 1691.  The following facts and figures are not intended to be precise or exacting and consider only sections A-AM. Only when all of the books have been examined will it be possible to know how many bibliographical items are involved.

Each volume of multivolume works merited an entry in the 1691 catalogue, as here with Plantin's bible

This table provides a breakdown of where stock held in the 1691 library was published

Distribution by country of origin is interesting but it should be borne in mind that ‘country’ does not always mean the same thing in the late Seventeenth Century as now. With the notable exception of France (with leads with 21%), the chief national provenances are from protestant centres of production in the modern Netherlands (13%), Switzerland (mainly Geneva and Zurich (16%)), England (17%), and Germany (also with 21%, but slightly fewer actual publications than France). Scotland is poorly represented with just 1% of books examined, doing better only than Spain. Considering what we know about the University of Glasgow in the Seventeenth Century, with the exception of the dominance of books of French origin, this national provenance distribution is not particularly surprising.

Subject to error (and it can be difficult to be sure what the erstwhile colleagues of 1691 meant by some of their Latin place-names) there appear to be works from about 145 different towns, all (so far) in Europe. The numeric distribution is quite interesting.  First of all there are 203 entries in which no place is named - about 6 percent of the total.  While a few centres appear to account for the majority of the entries, the number of places which account for a small number of entries is quite large: as many as 55 places account for only one entry (2% taken together), and 110 places account for 10 entries or fewer, with a total of 279 entries (9%). Glasgow, is the place of publication for only two entries; even Aberdeen and Dublin do rather better with five each!  The spread then becomes more widely spaced, with 22 places accounting for between 11 and 124 entries (566 entries in all, or 18%). This category includes Edinburgh with 26 entries, Cambridge with 17 entries, and Oxford, with 45. This, together with London production, no doubt reflects the pattern of academic publishing in England, Scotland and Ireland at this period.
The expected bunching of production in a few centres is very apparent from the cluster of 11 places which account for 125 or more entries. Nine centres (Antwerp, Frankfurt am Main, Geneva, Amsterdam, Lyon, Zurich, Cologne, Leiden and Basel) account for between 125 and 186 entries (1376 entries or 44%), while Paris and London each account for more than 400 entries - 873 in all, or 28%. That London is represented by 450 entries is perhaps not surprising, but the 423 entries for Paris is perhaps rather more noteworthy.

One factor perhaps explaining the importance of Paris is the number of patristic texts coming from there: Glasgow Divines needed patristic texts, and evidently went for the best editions, wherever they were printed. But it is not only patristic texts which came from Paris. The origin of the Glasgow University Library books of the period needs further analysis - it is clearly a mistake to assume that confessional questions in any sense subordinate the perceived necessity to acquire a book.

An example of a work published in Antwerp - the imprint details of Bl2-d.7, Pineda's Biblical commentaries

This graph details the number of volumes listed in the 1691 catalogue by decade

In the analysis by date it has been easier to assess what constitutes a ‘bibliographic unit’ - certainly to the extent of eliminating multiple references to multi-volume works. The number of separate publishing units amounts to about 2750 (about 88% of the figure stated in the analysis by place).

Unfortunately no firm conclusions can be drawn from these figures. This graph omits the 29 incunabula and 12 manuscripts listed in what has so far been transcribed from 1691. The average number of publications from each decade is 143. We might have expected the earliest years of the Sixteenth Century to have been thinly represented; even so, the extraordinarily pronounced peak in the graph in the first three decades of the Seventeenth Century must signify something, allowing of course for time lag between publication and arrival in the University Library - very possibly there was a spate of acquisition around this period.

It is known that, around 1630, the University was seeking funding for the library specifically, although the histories of the University suggest that, in the event, the library did not do too well from the fund-raising, even if the University’s buildings greatly improved.

The closer we approach 1691, the more accurately the figures must reflect something about the acquisition rates for the later decades (which are on the face of it, rather low) even though the 1660s, 70s and 80s could obviously have been the time at which a lot of the earlier books were also acquired. However, if such were the case, it is not what one would expect - all libraries must be assumed to have sought to acquire newly published books whenever possible. It will be important to see how the purchasing power of the Library fluctuated in the period in question.
Image showing a view of the Old College (Glasgow University) from Slezer's Thatrum Scotiae, London, 1693 (Sp Coll Bi8-a.1) Go to: Acquisitions

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