Records of Glasgow University Library

Scope and Content

  • Annual reports 1920-1990
  • Registers of borrowed books  1868-1984
  • Library guides, handbooks and stationery  1979-1990
  • Student time books 1910-1919
  • Exhibition catalogues and posters 1973-1992

Library files are also contained within the University's body of semi-current records 1971-1998

Administrative / Biographical History

Glasgow University Library is part of the University's Information Services Planning Unit (ISPU). The first explicit mention of the University Library was in 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. 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. The Nova Erectio of 1577 also signalled the rebirth of the Library. An early donation of Greek books, Plato, Plutarch, Strabo, Euclid, Aristophanes, mostly with Basel imprints, from the distinguished humanist poet George Buchanan, symbolised the spirit of the new era.

From a stock of around 3,500 at the end of the seventeenth century, the Library grew sharply throughout the course of the eighteenth 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, London. By 1760 the holdings had extended to about 6,000 and by 1791 this had reached some 20,000. A printed catalogue was published that year by the Foulis Press, compiled by Archibald Arthur, professor of Moral Philosophy, Chaplain and Librarian. The University received the greatest boost to its library holdings in 1807, however, when it inherited the prized collection of books and manuscripts assembled by Dr William Hunter, the distinguished anatomist and Physician Extraordinary to Queen Charlotte. His personal library of some 10,000 printed volumes doubled the library's stock. Distance from London and the attendant difficulties of acquiring the books required by the teaching staff, rendered the Stationers' Privilege ineffective and consequently in 1836 it was commuted to a fixed sum paid from the Treasury. By 1888, the Library's holdings had risen to some 126,000 volumes.

In 2002, the University Library occupied a twelve storey building in Hillhead Street originally constructed in 1968 and extended in 1983, 1986 and 1997. It was the centre of the University's library system and housed the principal collections in all fields except Chemistry, Dental Medicine, Education, and Veterinary Medicine, which were held in Branch Libraries. There was also a Faculty Library in Social Sciences (the Adam Smith Library), containing mainly duplicate undergraduate texts. The Director of Library Services, is also the Keeper of the Hunterian Books and Manuscripts. Formal relationships between the Library and the academic community are maintained through the Library Committee, which has representatives from Court, Senate, the Faculties, the Student Representative Council and the Library Staff.

The Library's Special Collections are among the finest in the United Kingdom. They include the aforementioned books and manuscripts of the Hunterian Library, forming part of the Museum bequeathed to the University by William Hunter in 1783. Among the 10,000 volumes are 649 manuscripts, 534 incunabula (including 10 books printed by William Caxton) and upwards of 2,300 sixteenth-century editions. There are several other notable collections. The library of William Euing (20,000 volumes), including many fifteenth and sixteenth century books, over 2,000 bibles, 408 black-letter ballads and, by transfer in 1937, his collection of 5,000 music volumes originally bequeathed to Anderson's College. The library of John (Soda) Ferguson (7,500 volumes), consists mainly of items on the history of chemistry, alchemy and the occult. The library of David Murray (23,000 items), is mainly on Glasgow and west of Scotland history. A collection of 2,000 emblem books formed by Sir William Stirling Maxwell, and bequeathed in 1956 by his son, Sir John Stirling Maxwell, is the finest in the world. The library of Trinity College, Glasgow (75,000 items) was transferred to the University when the Trinity College building closed. Included are 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. 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. Also held are many collections of personal manuscript material including the papers of the artist James McNeill Whistler.


This material has been arranged in series, which consist of numbers of items related by format and/or function. Within series, the items are generally arranged chronologically. The material in the semi current system reflects the original order in which it was received.

Access Information

By appointment - access to recent official records and records containing confidential information is restricted in accordance with University policies and relevant legislation.

Acquisition Information

These records were received from the University Library.

Other Finding Aids

Digital file level list available in searchroom.

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Conditions Governing Use

Owned by the University of Glasgow.

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the Archivist.

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 0248 procedures except for the semi-current records.

Custodial History



Accruals possible

Related Material

Records relating to the Library can be found at Glasgow University Library Special Collections Department (  GB 247  )


No known publications using this material

Additional Information

This material is original.

Subfonds level description compiled by Emily Woolmore, GASHE project archivist , 12 April 2000  and Yvonne Ewing, archives assistant, 14 March 2002  . Amended by Lesley Richmond, October 2002  .