Upon walking into the New College Library, I was a bit confused. Did I just walk into a church?
|New College Library|
Indeed, the library was the Free High Church until 1934. The stained glass windows, and the bookcases that bear striking resemblance to pews reveal the original purpose of the space. The ends of the bookcases are actually the carvings from the pews, and each one has a different design.
As this is an academic library, primarily students pursuing masters and doctoral degrees use it. New College is an school in the University of Edinburgh offering degrees in theology, divinity and religious studies. Members of the public are welcome, but there is a subscription fee in place.
Our hostess graciously pulled some of the library's treasures for us to view during our visit. On display was a first edition of a 1611 King James Bible, a sermon written by John Knox, and a Torah Scroll. I was most intrigued by the scroll, as it is in remarkable condition and little it known about its provenance.
New College Library is one of the UK's largest libraries specializing in theology. The majority of the materials are related to the Protestant tradition, but recently there has been a shift to include all religions. In the collection are 250,000 items, with 50,000 considered to be special collections. To meet the qualifications of a special collection item, it must have been produced before 1850 or be a unique item. We were given guided tours through the three levels of stacks. The books used to be catalogued using Union Theological Seminary classification, but now almost all of the books are organized based on Library of Congress.
|Stacks in New College Library|
Interestingly, the librarians indicated that the special collections are not the property of New College Library. Instead, they belong to the Church of Scotland. New College does not have a budget for the acquisition of new materials. Anything acquired has come from the generosity of a donor and based on the suggestions of the researchers who use the library.
There are, however, some funds for conservation. Although there isn't a line in the budget for conservation, funding comes from the sale of books and from the Church of Scotland. While in the stacks, I noticed a shelf of materials labeled as needing work. Minor repairs were needed to ensure the integrity of the resource, but for the most part the books held in the library were in phenomenal condition.