Starring in Print: New Article about Senate House Library

The University of London Library, as Senate House Library was known until 2004, first officially opened its doors in 1877. This followed the establishment of what it was hoped would become “a first-class University Library” when the University of London acquired its first building in 1870 and its first substantial gifts of books in 1871, the mathematical library of Augustus De Morgan and the more general library, with particular emphasis on Classics and history, of George Grote. But in fact the University was given its first books in 1838, two years after the University was established by Royal Charter, and received a constant dribble of books in the following years. It is now possible to read about the earliest days of Senate House Library in a newly published article: K.E. Attar, ‘”The Establishment of a First-Class University Library”: The Beginnings of the University of London Library’, History of Universities, 28(1) (2014), 44-65.

[IMAGE The University of London Library at Burlington Gardens in the 1890s.]

The University of London Library at Burlington Gardens in the 1890s.

  • In this article Dr Karen Attar, Rare Books Librarian at Senate House Library and Associate Research Fellow at the Institute of English Studies within the School of Advanced Study, traces the history of Senate House Library from 1838 until 1900. Discussion covers the following:
  • The unusualness of founding a University without a library;
  • The sense for twenty years that a University library was unnecessary;
  • The beginnings of a desire for a University library;
  • An overview of the books acquired between 1838 and 1871 and their donors;
  • Briefly, the two big gifts;
  • The room in which they were held, which doubled as an examinations hall, in Burlington Gardens
  • The appointment of a librarian – who doubled as Assistant Registrar, his main job;
  • The establishment of library rules;
  • The creation of a catalogue.

Finally, how much use was a donation-driven library with a high proportion of antiquarian books? The article finishes by comparing library holdings against the curriculum, as shown by examinations, of the time. To learn about Senate House Library’s early history through the article, order from Periodicals PR K5 (offsite store).

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