Thursday, July 17, 2014

The past lives on

After our trip to Scotland, we were free to go anywhere we wished on our 5-day mini-break. I chose this opportunity to visit the Palace Green Library in Durham, as I believed this institution would be a fantastic asset in my final research paper on special collection development. Jon Purcell graciously offered a guided tour through the non-public parts of the library.

View of the Palace Green Library (on the left) and the Durham Castle (back) from the tower in the Durham Cathedral
Durham University is one of the older universities in England, but the Palace Green Library (which houses the special collections for the university) has its origins centuries before the university's founding. John Cosin, the Bishop of Durham, founded a public library in 1669. This library is still in its original building inside the Palace Green Library, and the original university library books are up in the gallery of the Cosin Library. Walking into this bright and cozy library, I hope I closed my jaw before I looked like a gaping fish. An image truly cannot capture the sense of traveling to another time, one in which the beauty of books and the sanctity of the library is revered.

Cosin Library
I also saw the Routh and Bamburgh libraries, each untouched by time. All three libraries have been organized exactly the way the owners left the library. The Cosin Library, for example, has shelf marks based on the portraits hung above the shelves.

Original shelf list catalogues in the Bamburgh Library
Interestingly, more of Sudan's national documents exist in the Durham libraries than in Sudan. Over the years, they have been contacted in an attempt to give the documents to Sudan, but since the documents are all available online the libraries are not willing to lose a major collection.

Cosin Library and Exchequer Building (part of Palace Green Library)
Over tea, we discussed the various aspects of Palace Green's collection development policy. The library relies heavily on donations, as is apparent through its long history of entire libraries gifted to the institution. Therefore, a lengthy gift policy detailing procedures and types of materials accepted is available online. Even if the gift is not something the library wishes to acquire, they will do their best to find a good home for the material. Based on our conversation, there doesn't seem to be a budget for the purchase of new materials, but there is a board that raises money if a desired item comes on the market. Once new items are catalogued, they can be searched and located through COPAC, the union catalogue for all research libraries in the UK.

After this visit, I'm confident using the Palace Green Library in the final paper is a solid choice. Jon was a wonderful host, and shared a lot of great information about the history of the institution. His passion for the history and mission of the library is apparent in the programs, exhibitions and goals--the past is very much a part of the present and the collections are given new life.

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