Records of the Library of the University of St Andrews.

Scope and Content

The records are divided into bound volumes and boxed material. The volume series has been listed and includes catalogues 1644-1980, borrowing records 1697-1925, acquisition records 1841-1954, minutes 1861-1988, regulations and reader guides, correspondence, financial records and special topics such as binding. In addition there are some 70 metres of boxes of material awaiting appraisal and listing. These include correspondence of the librarian and deputy librarian (18 metres), library accounts (1 metre archived plus rolling retention of current financial material in accordance with legislation, c. 20 metres), papers relating to library staff (2 metres), correspondence, diaries and notes of keeper of muniments (10 metres), manuscript and muniment department administration papers (2 metres) and general administration and miscellaneous (15 metres).

Administrative / Biographical History

The earliest known library in St Andrews was that of the Priory of the Cathedral which was founded not later than 1144. There are various references to books held there and gifts and bequests of books during the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. The early records of the Faculty of Arts indicate that there was a desire within the University to acquire books but that they were very scarce. In 1456 there was an attempt at a Faculty meeting to found a common University Library, known as the 'library of the Faculty of Arts and of the College of St John the Evangelist'. The earliest record of borrowings dates from 3 October 1459. Some of the books of William Schevez, appointed archbishop in 1478, were the earliest printed books known to have reached St Andrews and survive in the University library.

The chief libraries of the University were those of the colleges. St Salvator's College (1450) had a library from an early date and its earliest known collection was of books for the choir (1479). In 1534 a rectorial visitation recommended the cleaning and repair of the Library, the chaining of the books which remained and the retrieval of those which had strayed. During the upheaval under Cardinal David Beaton, assassinated in 1546, the treasures of St Salvator's College were removed to the Castle for safekeeping and it seems likely that the books were also transferred, and subsequently captured by the French. A commission of 1588 found no proper inventories of the library. The post of college library keeper was established in 1534. It received its largest bequest, of 380 books, from Archdeacon William Moore in 1684.

St Leonard's College (1512) had the best library in St Andrews until the foundation of the present University library. It arose, both in building and as a collection of books, from the Priory Library, being based in the old Senzie Chamber of the Priory. Prior John Hepburn, one of the founders of the College, made gifts of books to the Library, a number of which have descended to the University Library. His example was followed by a number of his successors. GH Bushnell suspected that the successive Principals' bequests were regarded as bequests to their successors and thus that the same books were regularly re-bequeathed to the College library, along with those added by each Principal (see Salmond, Henderson's Benefaction, 1942, p. 37). The practice was continued after the Reformation with more substantial gifts, for example, from the Earl of Murray, Commendator of the Priory, of a fine collection of books to St Leonard's College and from George Buchanan, principal of the College to 1570.

In 1566 Mary Queen of Scots indicated her intention of founding a library in the University through an autograph postscript to her testamentary inventory. However, the Greek and Latin books she had promised were eventually incorporated into the Royal Library. St Mary's College does not seem to have had a very significant college library, although books given by Archbishop Hamilton and James and David Beaton do survive in the University collection. In 1588 there was found to be "no perfect inventory, nor common books". Various late sixteenth century inventories list about 100 volumes.

Though there are these indications of a pre-Reformation Common Library of the University, the present University Library dates from 1611-12 when it was re-founded by King James VI and I at the instigation of Archbishop Gledstanes, the nucleus of the collection consisting of donations made by the Royal Family, by Archbishop Abbot of Canterbury and by other leading figures of the period. The prime intention and purpose of the re-foundation was the support of the Episcopalian church as promoted by the King, who did not make provision for a Library building but was concerned that a new building should be erected. The site of the old library of the Faculty of Arts and the College of St John on South Street was chosen and work began in 1612. This was at the centre of the University and on common property, while St Mary's College to which it was adjacent did not have an established library of its own. What remained of the ancient building of Wardlaw's Pedagogy was incorporated in the new Library (see Bushnell's article in Salmond, op. cit., note 1, p 42). Until the Upper Hall in the Library became ready for occupation in 1643, the University Library was housed in St Mary's College and the duty of looking after it probably devolved on a regent or student of that college. The completion of the original library building was made possible by the munificence of Alexander Henderson, the Covenanter, a former student and regent in the University and one of the University Commissioners of 1642.

In 1711 the library became entitled to copyright privileges under the Act of that year, and by 1764 the growth of the collections made it necessary to remodel and extend the library building, to which, in 1783, the libraries of St Leonard's and St Salvator's Colleges were transferred. In 1837 the copyright privileges were replaced by an annual Parliamentary grant of 630, later consolidated in recurrent grants from the University Court. Many of the Library's most valuable accessions have continued to come, however, from private benefactions. The present University Library building situated between North Street and The Scores was opened in 1976. It is fully air-conditioned on four levels. It houses the University's rare book and manuscript and muniment collections as well as the bulk of book and periodical holdings. The library is also constantly updating its Information Technology services and has provision for the use of on-line and computer based resources.

The Office of Librarian of the University dates from 1642, when the General Assembly's Commissioners established the post as a bursary in St Mary's College. By the 1660s, the librarianship had become the responsibility of the three colleges. In 1720 the office was formally combined with that of Secretary of the University, and for most of the period from then until 1892 carried with it also the duties of Quaestor. In 1899 the Librarian relinquished his secretarial duties. The Librarian is an ex officio member of the Senatus Academicus.


The records have been arranged in accordance with a classification scheme imposed at listing in 1995. They are described in the following sub-groups:

  • UYLY100-199 Catalogues
  • UYLY200-299 Borrowing records: Membership
  • UYLY300-399 Acquisition records
  • UYLY400-499 Minutes of governing and advisory bodies
  • UYLY500-599 Regulations. Reader guides
  • UYLY600-699 Correspondence
  • UYLY700-799 Staff records
  • UYLY800-899 Financial records
  • UYLY900-999 Special topics.

The volumes series are listed. The boxed material has only been roughly sorted and awaits listing and integration into the classification scheme. Any new accessions are added to this boxed run. Within series items are generally arranged chronologically.

Access Information

By appointment with the Archivist. Access to unpublished records less than 30 years old and other records containing confidential information may be restricted.


Description compiled by Rachel Hart, Archives HUB Project Archivist.

Other Finding Aids

Hand list available.

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the University Archivist.Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 227 procedures.

Custodial History

Retained in the custody of the University of St Andrews.



Related Material

Material relating to the libraries of the Colleges can be found listed under the holdings of each of the component colleges of the University.


JB Salmond (ed.), Henderson's benefaction: a tercentenary acknowledgement of the University's debt to Alexander Henderson, (St Andrews University Library Publications, II, 1942), GH Bushnell, Catalogue of Incunabula in St Andrews University Library, (St Andrews University Publications, LIII, 1956), 'Inventories of buikis in the colleges of Sanctandrois, 1588-1612' in Miscellany of the Maitland Club, Edinburgh, 1834, vol. 1, pp. 303-29, M Simpson, St Andrews University Library in the eighteenth century: Scottish education and print-culture, (St Andrews University Ph.D. Thesis, July 1999).

Additional Information

This material is original.

Geographical Names