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Scottish Thought and Letters in the Eighteenth Century

Introduction - History and Antiquities - Geography - Travels - Encyclopaedias - Libraries - Society and Clubs - Law - Philosophy and Religion- Economy and Social History - Adam Smith - Education Architecture - Science and Medicine- Literature


KIRKWOOD, James. An overture for founding and maintaining of bibliothecks in every paroch throughout this kingdom: humbly offered to the consideration of the General-Assembly.
[ n.p. 1701]

To James Kirkwood, a native of Dunbar and a graduate of Edinburgh University, must be credited the first idea of public libraries, in Scotland at least. His scheme was to provide a lending library for every parish in Scotland, firstly by transferring to public ownership the private libraries owned by parish ministers, who would be credited with the value of their books, and secondly, to maintain the libraries, by levying a month's cess per annum on the ministers and heritors, which would bring in an annual sum of 72,000 Scots.

Each library was to produce its catalogue in quadruplicate: one for the minister, one for the heritors, one for the library and one for the central office in Edinburgh, where a union catalogue was to be maintained for the use of every library and to facilitate interlibrary lending within each presbytery.

Kirkwood's plan was a mixture of extravagance and careful detail. It was the work of an enthusiast who over-estimated the importance that libraries held in the minds of his countrymen, and no doubt it broke down on the two vital points of the loss of their personal libraries by the ministers, and the very high levy proposed for a country as poor as Scotland.

The wide-ranging nature of Scottish intellectual inquiry during this period is reflected in the diverse subject areas covered, with every conceivable topic from architecture to literature being studied, scrutinised and re-assessed.

KIRKWOOD, James A copy of a letter anent a project, for erecting a library, in every presbytery, or at least county, in the Highlands. [Edinburgh : 1702] Mu30-e.23

This pamphlet described Kirkwood's modified scheme adopted by the General Assembly in 1705. There was to be no levy at all this time, and all books were to be supplied by private benevolence and the area covered was to be limited to the Highlands. He was able to offer to the Assembly 19 presbytery libraries and 58 parish libraries complete.

The scheme was closely linked with a similar English plani sponsored by the S.P.C.K., for the provision of books in the remote districts of England and Wales and in the colonies overseas. The Highlands were included in these deserving areas, and it is interesting to note that at first, at any rate, the books came from Church of England clergymen in the south. At once Kirkwood had much opposition to overcome and he had to show great diplomacy in negotiating between the two countries under their different religious establishments. Against the English objection that the ruling party in Scotland were Presbyterian enemies of the Church of England, he argued that the sending of good books among them might help to rectify their errors and prejudices, and he was able to persuade the Scots to agree that in order to be able to answer heretics it was necessary to read their books.

It is possible that the coming Union, promising to open up an era of closer relationship between England and Scotland, helped the scheme to get as far as it did.