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Parish to Public: The Surprising History of Scottish Libraries


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Tracing the history of Scottish libraries from ecclesiastical and private collection to institutional, circulating, and subscription libraries, one would assume the Scots would have embraced the …

Tracing the history of Scottish libraries from ecclesiastical and private collection to institutional, circulating, and subscription libraries, one would assume the Scots would have embraced the notion of public libraries. In reality? Not so much.

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  • 1. Parish to Public: The Surprising History of Libraries in Scotland
  • 2. Thesis • Tracing the development of libraries in Scotland reveals an increasing focus on the community. • Progressing from ecclesiastical and private collections to institutional, circulating, and subscription libraries inspired and directed by individual communities, the move toward public libraries would, we might assume, be an organic one. • However, the formal institution of public libraries in Scotland was met with surprising opposition, which prompts a consideration of the roadblocks (then and now) pertinent to the successful adoption of public libraries. Ashley Gray
  • 3. Note: Considering Scotland & England • 1603 - united under one monarch (James VI) • 1657 - Scotland loses independence in English Civil War • 1707 – Act of Anglo-Scottish Union, Scots lose their parliament Histories are intertwined “…twin kingdoms, born of the same era and from the same forces” (Herman 23). Ashley Gray
  • 4. Note: Considering Scotland & England • While Scotland can claim many “firsts” in British library history, it is difficult to extricate what was a purely Scottish development and what was borrowed from England. • Additionally, there are far fewer records of Scottish libraries than there are English. Ashley Gray
  • 5. Types of Scottish Libraries • Ecclesiastical • Private • Institutional • Circulating • Subscription • Public Pictured (counter-clockwise): Catalog page from Edinburgh Circulating Library, Engraving of interior of Advocates’ Library (Edinburgh), Exterior of Kirkwall Library (Orkney) Ashley Gray
  • 6. Chronology of the Emergence of Scottish Libraries 1400 1500 1600 1700 1800 1900 Enlightenment c. 1740-1790 Scottish Reformation 1560 printing press and the Renaissance c. 1450 Public Libraries Act (Scotland) 1853 Copyright Act 1709 Ecclesiastical Libraries Institutional Libraries Circulating Libraries Subscription Libraries Public Libraries Glorious Revolution 1688-89 Private Libraries Ashley Gray
  • 7. Ecclesiastical Libraries • Until the thirteenth century, monastery and cathedral libraries contained at most a few hundred volumes. • Books were chained to lecterns or kept in chests. • As collections grew, larger spaces were constructed to hold them: closets, small rooms, and sometimes entirely separate buildings. The earliest Scottish libraries were medieval monastic libraries of manuscripts—e.g., at Iona and Lochleven. The dissolution of monastic libraries during the Scottish Reformation destroyed most libraries and their contents. St. Columba stained glass at Iona Ashley Gray
  • 8. Private Libraries • Benefactors were often members of the clergy, educated professionals, and well-traveled bibliophiles. • Until the mid-19th century, virtually every library founded for public or professional use in Scotland was built upon a bestowed personal collection. Ashley Gray
  • 9. Private Libraries • Before the 16th century, private libraries largely belonged to the nobility and the wealthy. • Impact of the printing press and Renaissance humanism: other social brackets were interested in developing and could afford to cultivate personal libraries. – By 16th century, library-owners included: churchmen, educators, students, doctors, and lawyers. – By 18th century: landed gentry, merchants. Ashley Gray
  • 10. Institutional Libraries Apart from ecclesiastical collections, “most libraries of consequence were institutional” (Bunch 59) – i.e., libraries connected with universities and the elite professions, such as medicine and law. University of Edinburgh Ashley Gray
  • 11. • St. Andrews (1411) established a library in 1612 • Glasgow (1451) - c. 1475 • Edinburgh (1583) – 1580 (predates the university) • Aberdeen (1494) – first known record of library in 1634 • Small collections until the Copyright Act of 1709 – “required publishers to provide, free of charge, eleven copies of all books registered at Stationers’ Hall in London” (Bunch 86) to several British universities and colleges, as well as the British Museum, the University of Dublin, and the Advocates’ Library in Edinburgh. • Practices regarding accessibility varied across the centuries and between institutions. • Overall, collections were generally available to professors, sometimes to students, and rarely to persons unconnected with the university. Institutional Libraries: The Four Scottish Universities Ashley Gray
  • 12. Institutional Libraries: Medical/Hospital Libraries • First Scottish medical library was established in 1681 out of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. • First hospital library in the entire UK was the Royal Infirmary, also in Edinburgh, and opened in 1741. New library of the Royal College of Physicians, 2012 Ashley Gray
  • 13. Institutional Libraries: The Advocates’ Library in Edinburgh • Opened in 1689. • Originally functioned in a professional capacity for the Faculty of the Advocates but throughout the Enlightenment, Faculty unofficially lent books to nonmembers. • Gradually acquired personal collections of historians, physicians, and government officials. • Expanded further under the Copyright Act, purchases, and donations. • By the 1850s, effectively served as the national repository. • In 1925, entire non-law collection—over 750,000 documents—was donated as the foundation collection of the National Library of Scotland. Fun fact: you can have your wedding reception at the library, now called the Signet LibraryAshley Gray
  • 14. Circulating Libraries • Circulating libraries (often called lending libraries) were commercial ventures run by booksellers who maintained rental shelves in the back of their shops. • Allan Ramsay is credited with establishing the first circulating library in Edinburgh in the 1720s. • At least 70 existed before 1800, but with more than 300 booksellers in business at the time, many more likely operated a rental scheme. • Thrived primarily in metropolitan areas, e.g. market and industrial towns. Ashley Gray
  • 15. Circulating Libraries • Provided the public with a less costly reading option: a subscription fee permitted a patron to borrow the latest books for several days. • ~ 200 arose in first decades of 19th century—53 in Edinburgh alone! • Known for their propagation of novels, but also provided plentiful works on science, history, and religion. Ashley Gray
  • 16. Subscription Libraries • Generally run by “societies” and functioned as private clubs. • Established with practical, social, and cultural aims. • Formed mainly to facilitate the purchase of/access to books otherwise unaffordable by individuals. • Also cultivated “polite sociability” (Towsey, “All Partners” 41) and promoted intellectual pursuits. Ashley Gray
  • 17. Subscription Libraries • Collections were determined by the members, who paid a fee for a share in the library as well as a voice in its acquisitions and overall management. • Popular in county and industrial towns. • Whereas England did not earnestly adopt this model until the 1820s, many smaller Scottish towns had at least one by 1800. 15 before 1790 37 established in the 1790s 203 more between 1800 and 1830 Growth of Scottish Subscription Libraries Ashley Gray
  • 18. Subscription Libraries • Founders and members ranged from doctors, surgeons, lawyers, and church ministers to merchants, workmen, farmers, cobblers, weavers, and grocers. • Variety of flavors: some avoided fiction in favor of more cerebral material, others sought out controversial works, and still others sought to instill proper conduct and facilitate spiritual growth. • Mark Towsey’s analysis of 44 surviving subscription catalogs: – Two-thirds offered novels, works of poetry, and other “imaginative literature” – Many carried books of Scottish philosophy and literary criticism – Nearly all had famous Enlightenment history texts • Many shaped their offerings according to other collections and took their literary cues from London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow authorities. Ashley Gray
  • 19. Subscription Libraries: Leadhills Reading Society Total collection in 1904 was nearly 5,000 volumes, the largest subscription library collection in Scotland. • Founded in 1748 • First subscription library in Britain • At its peak, consisted of nearly 90% of a single mining village. Ashley Gray
  • 20. By 1850 • By 1850, there was a library in almost every burgh and most villages in Scotland--often more than one. • “The subscription libraries, embodying as they did the principle of voluntary association, almost anticipated the public library idea” (Aitken 25). Operative word: almost Ashley Gray
  • 21. Public Libraries Modern definition: free for all to use and funded (at least in part) from public sources Historical Scottish reality: With some exceptions (Dundee, Innerpeffray, and Kirkwall), town and subscription libraries often carried the word “Public” in their title but restricted loaning privileges, usually in favor of paying members. – E.g. Glasgow Public Town Library. (est. 1791), which lent books only to “such citizens and inhabitants of Glasgow as should pay a life- subscription of three guineas.” Ashley Gray
  • 22. Public Libraries: Acts of Parliament • 1845: Museum Act – gave town councils of local governments with populations of a minimum magnitude the power to establish museums with monies raised from property taxes – also posited the idea that as with “public galleries of art and science, and other institutions of promoting knowledge” (Kelly 9), so should libraries be made intentionally publicly accessible institutions • 1850: Public Libraries Act – proposed that government funds should be directed toward library aid and that libraries should be added to the list of institutions able to be erected through municipal initiative Ashley Gray
  • 23. Public Libraries: The Scottish Reaction • The Public Libraries Act was not extended to Scotland until 1853. • Although the bill passed with little debate, it was met with strong opposition by many Scottish cities and towns when local councils proposed to actually adopt it. – Proposals were rejected repeatedly in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow, and Arbroath. • By 1878, there were only six rate-supported public libraries in the nation. Ashley Gray
  • 24. Public Libraries: The Scottish Reaction • Even after public libraries grew in prominence, subscription libraries did not immediately dissolve, and many survived well into the twentieth century. • The Scottish Library Association was not formed until 1908—more than thirty years after England had established their Library Association in 1877. Ashley Gray
  • 25. Public Libraries: The Scottish Reaction The trajectory of the library in Scotland from the Middle Ages to the Victorian era would seem to promise an organic development toward the modern public library. Yet Scotland resisted the public library movement, and slow growth was achieved more by philanthropists than by public demand. Ashley Gray
  • 26. Why? Why was Scotland, a nation that could claim so much in the way of community library origins, so resistant to the institution of public libraries? Ashley Gray
  • 27. Reasons for Opposition: Practical • Parliament granted permission for local initiative and determined the conditions, but to adopt the act, towns still had to raise taxes. – Glasgow was “not empowered to levy a library rate” until 1899—45 years after the initial Act—and largely thanks to a gift from Andrew Carnegie. – In many cases, even with gifts from Carnegie, subsequent levies were insufficient to maintain or further develop a library once it was established. “Local taxes were already burdensome and oppressive. The good from the proposed library would be of a trifling character and confined to a few who could easily supply their wants otherwise.” - Paisley Gazette, 1857 Ashley Gray
  • 28. Reasons for Opposition: Practical • Redundancy—virtually every market town, significant village, and major city already had a library or similar book- providing establishment. • Competition – circulating libraries feared free institutions would drive them out of business. Ashley Gray
  • 29. Reasons for Opposition: Personal • Resentment? – Recall centuries of English v. Scotland animosity. Anglo-Scottish political unification did not automatically or often connote political peace—even in something so innocuous-sounding as library history. • Pride? – “In the boroughs of Ayr and Kilmarnock, and in almost every borough in Scotland, there were excellent libraries established without any help whatever from [Parliament]” - Alexander Oswald, 1850 • Desire to maintain social status quo? – James Hudson lamented in 1850 the “exclusive and aristocratic spirit in [subscription libraries’] conditions of membership and in the choice of works supplied.” Ashley Gray
  • 30. Did it work? Eventually, public libraries in Scotland became the majority rather than the minority. • Many library services were initiated through Education Acts in the first decades of the 20th century. • By World War II, public libraries far outnumbered circulating and subscription libraries. Ashley Gray
  • 31. Conclusion: Relevance and Further Questions Scotland’s surprising history raises many questions pertinent to public libraries today as we continue to contend with the problem of a fundamental necessity (moral, education, social, etc.) being challenged or outweighed by financial infeasibility, uncertainty, and prejudice. Ashley Gray
  • 32. Conclusion: Relevance and Further Questions How might we better harmonize these considerations? What provisions must be in place? What boundaries do we push? What unfortunate yet undeniably human factors are at work and how can they best be reconciled? We know libraries make the world a better place. How do we make the world a better place for libraries? Ashley Gray
  • 33. Conclusion: Final Thoughts Aberdeen University Library, interior Library leaders today will need to act with creativity, sensi tivity, and vision to provide beneficial solutions to these questions. Ashley Gray
  • 34. Bibliography & Image Sources “The Advocates Library.” The Advocates Library. The Faculty of Advocates, 2012. Web. 17 July 2013. Aitken, W. R. A History of the Public Library Movement in Scotland to 1955. Glasgow: Scottish Library Association, 1971. Print. Scottish Library Studies. Bunch, Antonia J. Hospital and Medical Libraries in Scotland. Glasgow: Scottish Library Association, 1975. Print. Scottish Library Studies. Crawford, John. “Recovering the Lost Scottish Community Library: The Example of Fenwick.” Library History 23.3 (2007): 201-212. Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 July 2013. Durkan, John, and Anthony Ross. Early Scottish Libraries. Glasgow: J.S. Burns & Sons, 1961. Print. Edwards, Edward. Memoirs of Libraries: Including a Handbook of Library Economy. Two volumes. New York: Burt Franklin, 1859. Print. Herman, Arthur. How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It. New York: Crown, 2001. Print. Irwin, Raymond. The English Library: Sources and History. London: G. Allen and Unwin, 1966. Print. Johnson, Elmer D., and Michael H. Harris. History of Libraries in the Western World. 3rd ed. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1976. Print. Kaufman, Paul. Libraries and Their Users: Collected Papers in Library History. London: Library Association, 1969. Print. Kelly, Thomas. A History of Public Libraries in Great Britain, 1845-1965. London: Library Association, 1973. Print. Maclean, Fitzroy. A Concise History of Scotland. New York: Viking, 1970. Print. Manley K. A. “Scottish Circulating and Subscription Libraries as Community Libraries.” Library History 19.3 (2003): 185-194. Academic Search Complete. Web. 14 July 2013. St Clair, John, and Roger Craik. The Advocates' Library: 300 Years of a National Institution, 1689-1989. Edinburgh: H.M.S.O., 1989. Print. Towsey, Mark R. M. “‘All Partners May Be Enlightened and Improved by Reading Them’: The Distribution of Enlightenment Books in Scottish Subscription Library Catalogues, 1750–c.1820.” Journal of Scottish Historical Studies 28.1 (2008): 20-43. Academic Search Complete. Web. 14 July 2013. Towsey, Mark R. M. Reading the Scottish Enlightenment: Books and Their Readers in Provincial Scotland, 1750-1820. Ed. Andrew Pettegree. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2010. Print. Images courtesy of Flickr/Creative Commons, Wikimedia Commons, the National Library of Scotland Digital Gallery, and Ashley Gray