University of Glasgow


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Glasgow University Library Timeline


engraving of Glasgow Cathedral from Archibald McLellan: Essay on the Cathedral
Church of Glasgow  (1833) Mu23-y24

Glasgow University was founded by the Bull of the humanist pope Nicholas V. From the beginning, the University was undoubtedly furnished with some books for teaching, which took place initially within the cathedral church of St Mungo. It was also probably the case that the masters had free access to the resources of both the Dean and Chapter library of the cathedral, and the library of the adjacent Dominican house.


folio 8r of Euclid's Geometry and other texts France: c.1480 MS Gen 1115

The first explicit mention of the library is dated November 1475 when the first donations by the University's chancellor, Bishop John Laing were recorded - a manuscript compendium of Aristotle and Pseudo-Aristotelian texts, and a paper volume of quaestiones. The next gift noted is that of Duncan Bunch, the first principal of the Auld Pedagogy, as the Arts Faculty building was then called. This comprised ten volumes, including works by Aristotle, Porphyry, Boethius on logic, Albertus Magnus on physics and questions by Bunch's teacher at Cologne, John Althilmer. In this fashion of small donations and bequests the Library steadily grew throughout the pre-Reformation period. Unfortunately, none of the early manuscript donations already mentioned appear to have survived, leaving us to conclude that none of the present manuscript holdings of the Library had any connection with the early teaching of the University. The only possible exception to this is a copy of Euclid's Elementa (MS Gen 1115) and other geometrical treatises which bears the date 4th December 1480. Euclidean geometry we know would have been studied as part of the advanced Arts degree.


Strabo De Situ Orbis Venice: 1516 Bh20-a.16

The most dramatic cultural shift in the life of the university came with its re-constitution along reformed Protestant lines in 1577 under the energetic guidance of Andrew Melville. This event known as the Nova Erectio also signalled the rebirth of the Library. The spirit of the new era was symbolised in an early donation of Greek books, Plato, Plutarch, Strabo, Euclid, and Aristophanes - mostly with Basel imprints - from the distinguished humanist poet George Buchanan.


title page of Bible Basel: 1556 Bh10-c.9

Buchanan's donation of books was listed in the Catalogus librorum communis Bibliothecae Collegii Glasguensis, 1578. This first manuscript library catalogue still exists and is now in the care of the University Archives (GUA 26619). It begins with what was apparently the first printed book received, a Bible printed in Basel in 1556. This was the gift of the Rector, Andrew Hay, as recorded in the inscription on the title-page. This Bible is now housed in the Old Library collection.


title-page of Pseudo-Dionysius Opera Koln: 1556  Bl1-d.13

The most important donation supplementing that of Buchanan was given by James Boyd, Bishop of Glasgow. In 1581 he bequeathed 48 volumes of chiefly Patristic texts. Some of his books - including this work of Dionysius  - had belonged to James Beaton, the last Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, who had fled to France in 1603. Boyd's signature is repeated three times on the title-page, while Archbishop Beaton's heraldic stamp is on the covers. 


opening of Bm6-d.12: several medical works bound together

The beginnings of a medical library was formed on 3 August 1590 when Mark Jameson, vicar of Kilspindy, gave the University six books on medicine and materia medica. One of the volumes contains works of Savonarola and Pietro d'Argelata bound together; as well as bearing Jameson's ownership inscriptions and annotations, there are several pages of medical notes inserted.


Slezer's view of the old college from Theatrum Scotiae London: 1693

A general subscription began to build a 'common librarie within the Colledge of Glasgow'. King Charles I granted 200, although this sum was not paid until 1654 (by Oliver Cromwell!). New buildings were erected over a number of years. It is not known precisely where the early collections had been housed. Duncan Bunch had built a house for the Principal to the south of the College of Arts, but apparently retaining a room in the south wing of the already existing buildings. It may be surmised that the original library was here. When it was visited by the Englishman, Sir William Brereton, in about 1636, he found it 'a very little room not twice so large as my old closet'. 


title-page of Zachary Boyd's Zion' s Flowers MS Gen 393

Over the next thirty years, the Library continued to grow as a result of a number of gifts from benefactors such as the Rev. John Howeson, Alexander Boyd, and James Law (Archbishop of Glasgow). The next great benefaction was that of Zachary Boyd in 1637. Minister of the Barony Church in Glasgow, as well as Dean of Faculty, Rector and Vice-Chancellor at the University, Boyd left the University his manuscripts, books and 20,000 to provide new buildings and establish bursaries.


Andrew Snype was the first Librarian to be appointed. To begin with, the post of Librarian could only be held for a four year period. The earliest library rules prohibited writing or the use of tracing paper on books, direct access to the book presses, and reading near a fire or lamp; readers were allowed to whisper but forbidden to lay hands on works already in the hands of other readers.


James Huchesoune: Librarian.  


Patrick Young: Librarian. 


John Ross: Librarian.


John Hoggisyard was elected but not admitted as Librarian in 1655; Robert Baillie, junior, (the son of a divinity professor of the same name) was then nominated as Librarian. He died in office.


John Bell: Librarian.


James Bell: Librarian.


William Wright (Regent 1669): Librarian. 


David Oliphant: Librarian. 


cover of Edmund Castell  Lexicon heptaglotton donated by Snell:

During the troubled times of the Civil War and the Commonwealth, there is little trace of further donations to the library, although the Quaestor's Book contains lists of books bought. In 1670 John Snell, founder of the Snell exhibitions at Balliol College, Oxford, presented 31 volumes to the library.


George Pollok: Librarian. 


John Hamilton: Librarian.


James Young (regent 1682, later Professor of Humanity): Librarian.


John Young (deputy for his brother): Librarian.


1691 manuscript catalogue:
MS Gen 1312

Snell's donations are recorded in the manuscript catalogue of the library compiled in 1691. This catalogue shows a library of some 3,000 volumes arranged on the shelves by subject in 64 lettered presses. Inevitably, there was a concentration on theology, law, history and the classics, with some medicine and mathematics. Most of these books survive (now the Old Library collection) and are identified by the presence of old press marks on their title pages. Snell's books were kept in a special press: AP.  Additions were made to this catalogue until c. 1714.
1692-1693 David Ewing: Librarian.
1694-1697 John Simson (quaestor 1704, Prof. of Divinity 1708): Librarian. 
1697-1703 Robert Wodrow (quaestor 1698): Librarian.
1703-07 Alexander Dunlop (quaestor 1704, Prof. of Greek 1704): Librarian.
1707-1710  Matthew Crawford (deputy for Dunlop from 1704; Prof. of Ecclesiastical History, Edinurgh 1720): Librarian.
1709 From a stock of around 3,500 at the end of the 17th century, the library grew sharply throughout the course of the 18th century. This was due largely to the Copyright Act of 1709, which required that it be furnished with a copy of each work entered at Stationers' Hall. 
1710-1711 William Dunlop (Prof. of Divinty and Church History, Edinburgh 1714): Librarian.
1711-1716 John Aird: Librarian.
1716-1719 Alexander Carmichael: Librarian.
1719-1723 Alexander Anderson: Librarian.
1723-1724 John Carmichael: Librarian.
1724-1725 Alexander Carmichael: Librarian (again).
1725-1727 Frederick Carmichael: Librarian.

architectural drawing for Adam' s library: plate 155 from Vitruvius Scoticus Sp Coll e11

The Duke of Montrose, as Chancellor, gave directions that a gift of 500 made some years before by the Duke of Chandos should be spent on a  'house for the library'. The plans for this 'New Library' were prepared by William Adam, architect.
1727-1731 Alexander Clerk: Librarian.
1731-1735 Alexander Carmichael: Librarian (again: but ejected 1736). 
1735-1737 William Craig: Librarian (a retrospective appointment made in 1736 replacing Carmichael).
1737-1739 Gershom Carmichael: Librarian.
1739-1743 Alexander Dunlop: Librarian (Prof. Oriental Languages 1744). 

Adam's library from Annan's photographs of the old college
Photo B14

Adam's 'New Library' was completed. While the book presses were oiled and painted before the new library opened, books were distributed among the Professor's houses, before being recalled in 1744.
1743-1746 James Moor: Librarian (Prof. of Greek 1746; Vice Rector 1761). 
1747-1750 William Patoun: Librarian. 
1750-1755 James Wodrow: Librarian.
1755-1757 Andrew Melvil: Librarian (deputy to Wodrow from 1753; died in post). 
1757-1759 James Muirhead, later Morehead: Librarian. 
1759-1763 Thomas Clark: Librarian.
1760 By 1760 the holdings had extended to c. 6,000 items. 
1763-67  William Craig: Librarian (Judge of Court of Session, Lord Craig 1792).
1767-1772  John Finnie: Librarian.

portrait of Robert Simson from his works Glasgow: 1776

Robert Simson, Professor of Mathematics (1711-1760) died. He bequeathed his valuable library of some 900 volumes to the University. The volumes, consisting mainly of items relating to mathematics and astronomy are still kept together in the Special Collections Department.
1772-1773 Henry Stevenson: Librarian.
1773-1774 James Jaque or Jack: Librarian.
1774-1794 Archibald Arthur: Librarian (made Librarian for life in 1784; Prof. of Moral Philosophy 1796).

folio 276 from MS Hunter 231, a 14th Century manuscript of devotional and philosophical writings

William Hunter, the distinguished anatomist and Physician Extraordinary to Queen Charlotte, bequeathed his collections to the University in this year.

engraving by Joseph Swan of Adam library (and Hunterian Museum on the left) from Select views of Glasgow, 1828: BD6-d.12

An enlargement of the 'New Library' was completed, costing another 500.

title-page of Foulis Press catalogue: Mu21-x.3

Library stock reached some 20,000 items. A printed catalogue was published in this year by the Foulis press, compiled by Archibald Arthur, sometime professor of Moral Philosophy and Librarian.
1794-1795  William McTurk: Librarian (Prof. of Ecclesiatical History 1809). 
1795-1823 Lockhart Muirhead: Librarian (Prof. of Natural History 1807; first Keeper of the Hunterian Museum. 1823).

interior of Hunterian museum from Annan's photographs of the old college Photo B14

The University received the greatest boost to its library holdings when the prized collection of books and manuscripts assembled by Dr William Hunter was transferred, following the bequest of 1783. Hunter's personal library of some 10,000 printed volumes alone augmented the library's stock by 50%. Among the 10,000 books are 649 manuscripts, 534 incunabula (including 10 books printed by William Caxton) and upwards of 2,300 sixteenth-century editions. A special building was constructed to house Hunter's collections, designed by William Stark. This was completed in 1807.

supplement to catalogue, 1825 Mu21-c.1

William Fleming: Librarian (Assistant Librarian 1818;  Prof. of Oriental Languages 1831; Vice-Rector 1836; Prof. of Moral Philosophy 1839). Under the charge of Fleming, a second printed catalogue was prepared containing the library accessions between 1790 and 1825. A series of printed supplements  to this catalogue were  produced at intervals until 1860.
1827-1845 William Park, Librarian (sub-librarian 1826).
1836 Distance from London and the attendant difficulties of acquiring the books required by the teaching staff, rendered the Stationers’ Privilege ineffective. According to Dr McGill, Professor of Divinity, 'The Stationer's Hall privilege is not at all effective; we get very few valuable books comparatively, we get a great many idle books'. Consequently, in 1836, the privilege was commuted to a fixed sum paid from the Consolidated Fund. Books were now purchased by the Library Committee upon the recommendation or suggestion of professors.
1845-1863 Nathaniel Jones: Librarian (Registrar of General Council,1858).
1863-1865 Robert Scott: Librarian.
1865-1878  Robert B Spears, Librarian (previously assistant librarian).

opening page of the abridged  'student's' catalogue Mu21-c.1

William Purdie Dickson: Curator of the Library (Prof. of Biblical Criticism 1863; Prof. of Divinity 1873). Dickson was appointed curator in order to carry out his plan of re-cataloguing the library stock. He undertook to incorporate records for the whole of the library stock  into a single alphabetical sequence by cutting up copies of the previous catalogues and pasting in the slips thus procured in alphabetical order. Spaces were left to incorporate new stock as it arrived. As well as the catalogue in alphabetical order (now know as the 'Guard book' catalogue and still in use as catalogue 3 on the fiche), catalogues in old shelf mark order, new shelf mark order, and classified order were also produced. To aid the purposes of 'ordinary' students, a 'handy' catalogue giving details of some 20,000 books was also made: this was issued to students at the price of a shilling.

photograph of upper hall of library (1930s?): Photo A49/129

The books were moved to the new library at Gilmorehill, as part of the move of the whole University to the west end. This library occupied the North front of the Arts Quadrangle, in the section of the Gilbert Scott building now occupied by the staff dining rooms, telephone exchange and part of the Hunterian Museum. It is described as being 'well lighted and commodious, and contains provision probably sufficient at the present rate of increase for the next fifty years.'

Regiomontanus Calendar Venice: 1482 from the Euing collection: BD7-f.13

The library of William Euing (20,000 volumes), including many fifteenth and sixteenth century books, over 2,000 bibles, and 408 black-letter ballads bequested to the Library.
1878-1905  James Lymburn: Librarian (assistant librarian 1867). 

title-page of The Glasgow University Library: a plea for the increase of its
resources by William Dickson
Glasgow:1889 Mu21-a.33

By 1888 the holdings of the Library had risen to some 126,000 volumes. This pamphlet by the curator of the Library, William P. Dickson, was published a year later. While acknowledging the importance of gifts such as the Euing collection in augmenting library stock, it reveals that the Library had not received an increase in funding for maintenance and resources  for some fifty years. At this time, the sum of 750 was available to purchase books.

Photo A49/109

Photograph of William S. Macdonald,  superintendent of the Reading Room from c.1900, but dismissed in 1911. A reading Room for students was first established in 1833. It contained a separate library of reference for the use of students. Each reader was issued with a tally on entrance entitling him to sit at a designated table. According to William P. Dickson 'this simple arrangement for preventing crowding and conversation is appreciated and loyally observed by the great majority of students frequenting the room, whose worst enemies are those in their own ranks who occasionally forget the consideration due to the rights of others'.
1905-1916 James Lachlan Galbraith: Librarian, and first to hold the title Keeper of the Hunterian Books and Manuscripts.

Photo A49/112

Post of Librarian vacant. Mungo Ferguson was sub-librarian to 1924; Wilson Steel was acting librarian 1924-25, then sub-librarian. Wilson Steel is shown here, third from the left, in a photograph of library staff taken in May 1915. Staff shown are, from left to right: Robert Small (Janitor 1886-1916); Dan Paterson (Library Assistant 1912-1920); Wilson Steel; Douglas Robertson (in charge of the reading room, 1912-1932).

folio 73 of Coronatio Naturae c.1600: MS Ferguson 208

The University purchased the library of John Ferguson (7,500 volumes), mainly on the history of chemistry, alchemy and the occult.
1925-1951 William Ross Cunningham: Librarian and Keeper of the Hunterian books and Manuscripts. 

plate of Tantallon Castle from Oliver and Boyd's Scottish tourist Edinburgh: 1860 from Murray's collection: Mu3-f.19

David Murray presented his library (23,000 items, mainly on Glasgow and west of Scotland history) to the University, a year before his death.

folio 25r of the Euing Lute Book England: c.1620-1630
MS Euing 25

William Euing's collection of 5,000 music volumes, originally bequeathed to Anderson’s College, transferred to the Library.

Photo A49/130 & 131

These photographs show the evacuation of the upper hall in September, 1939, as a result of the war.

R.O. Mackenna in the sub-basement, 7 August 1969: Photo A49/100

Robert Ogilvie Mackenna: Librarian and Keeper of the Hunterian books and Manuscripts. 

Petrarch Canzone France c.1525-1550 from the Stirling Maxwell collection: SMM2

Sir William Stirling Maxwell's collection of 2,000 emblem books was bequeathed to the University in 1956 by his son Sir John Stirling Maxwell.

Whistler and the hanging committee of the Walker Art Gallery Whistler PH1/174

Following donations to the University in 1935 and again in 1954; the remaining items from Whistler’s estate came with the bequest of Rosalind Birnie Philip. The papers of the artist James McNeill Whistler include over 6,000 letters.

interior of reading room from student's handbook 1959-1960

This article written by R.O. Mackenna for the Students' handbook 1959-1960 describes the library services available at the end of the 1950s. For a deposit of one pound, any matriculated student was entitled to borrow up to four volumes at a time in term-time, rising to six in the summer session and vacation. The Library was open daily from 10 till 5, except on Saturdays when open from 10 until 1. The Reading Room is described as being a new addition to the library system, having accommodation for 430 readers and holding copies of most of the standard text books. The Reading Room service was transferred to the Main Library (as the Undergraduate Lending Library on level 2) recently and the building now houses a student help-desk and the IT Education Unit.

Photo A49/30

The present library building began construction on the site of the east-west section of Bute gardens. This photograph shows the new library foundations from the south west, with Hillhead Street in the background. Building of the 'first phase' took some three and a half years. 

Photo A49/83: library under construction, 13 June 1967

The construction of the present library was completed in 1968. The old library finally closed in July 1968 and the books were moved over the next three months. The new building opened to readers on 30 September 1968. This building is still the centre of the University’s library system and houses the principal collections in all fields except Chemistry, Dental Medicine, Education and Veterinary Medicine, which are held in Branch Libraries. There is also a Faculty Library in Social Sciences (the Adam Smith Library), containing mainly duplicate undergraduate texts. 

title-page of Tischendorf's When were our Gospels written? London: 1869
K.T. q115

The library received from the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the entire library of Trinity College, (75,000 items), including several thousand rare early works, 14,000 pamphlets, and the personal collections of John Eadie on biblical studies, Constantin von Tischendorf on Near Eastern topography, biblical codicology and textual studies, and James Mearns on hymnology.

photo of library staff in 1978 courtesy of Margaret Jasem (b&w copy at Photo A49/113)

This photograph of library staff was taken to commemorate the retirement of R.O. Mackenna, Librarian for twenty six years.

Henry Joseph Heaney

Henry Joseph Heaney: Librarian and Keeper of the Hunterian books and Manuscripts. 

play bill for the Pavilion Theatre
STA JLC45/22

The Scottish Theatre Archive, established in 1981 to collect material from all over Scotland, includes among its largest collections those of the Citizens’ Theatre, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Wildcat Stage Productions, Scottish Ballet, BBC Radio Scotland scripts, and Jimmy Logan’s collection of music-hall memorabilia.
1983 Library extended.
1986 Library extended.

photographs showing construction of level 12 in 1996

Library 'completed' with the addition of level 12 to house Special Collections and the refurbishment of levels 2 and 3. 

Andrew Wale

Andrew Wale: Director of Library Services and Keeper of the Hunterian books and Manuscripts

external shot of the library in 2001

Chris Bailey

550th anniversary of the founding of the University. The stock of the Library stands at about 2,000,000 volumes, but access to resources is increasingly being provided digitally. 




Chris Bailey becomes Director of Library Services and Keeper of the Hunterian Books and Manuscripts.



external shot of the library research annexe

A remote store (Library Research Annexe) opens to house lesser used research material as stock from St Andrew's campus (formerly a separate college for education) is merged with the main library.

Helen Durndell

students using refurbished facilities

Helen Durndell becomes University Librarian.


After several years of ongoing work every summer on different levels of the library, the refurbishment of levels 10 and 11 is completed, providing a greater variety of user spaces and access to PCs throughout the library.


store for historic photographs

With funding from the Wolfson Foundation, a state of the art store to house the library's collection of historic photographs is opened.

Professor Jeanrond delivers a celebratory lecture

The current library building celebrates its 40th birthday. The anniversary is marked with a lecture by Professor Werner Jeanrond, Professor of Divinity, "Love of books and books of love".

Go to Special Collections Exhibitions Page

Devised by Julie Gardham, 2001; last updated 2007