Books and Borrowing 1750-1830

Past Events

Conference Programme: Reading and Book Circulation, 1650-1850

University of Stirling, 17-18 April 2023

You can find our the conference programme here (Word): Books and Borrowing Conference Programme Final-1

Call For Papers: Reading and Book Circulation, 1650-1850
University of Stirling, 17-18 April 2023

Part of a Festival of Research on Libraries, Lives and Legacies organised with the ‘Libraries, Reading Communities and Cultural Formation in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic’ project.

The organisers invite 20-minute papers that approach the topics of reading and book circulation in the (very) long eighteenth century from any methodological perspective. Since Robert Darnton first challenged researchers in the field of book history to consider how to retrieve the history of reading, many new approaches have been pioneered, and much new evidence has come to light. At this conference, we hope to survey the state of the field, facilitating conversations between librarians, archivists, and researchers from a variety of different disciplines, and considering the myriad ways in which understanding book circulation and reading habits can shed new light on our period.

Papers might address (but are not limited to) any of the following topics:

  • Communities of reading
  • Individual readers
  • Relationships between actors in the communications circuit
  • Institutional practices and the history of reading
  • Library history and collection histories
  • Education and pedagogy
  • Theoretical approaches to reading
  • Methodological challenges and solutions
  • Archival materials and other new evidence

Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words for 20-minute papers, or 800 words for pre-formed panels of 3 or 4 speakers, as a Word document attachment to Professor Katie Halsey at, with the subject line ‘Reading and Book Circulation Conference’ by 6 January 2023. Please include a 100-word biography for each speaker.

Books & Borrowing Creative Writing Competition:
1 November 2022 – 31 January 2023

The Books and Borrowing project is delighted to announce the launch of our 2022 Books and Borrowing Creative Writing Competition.

Entries may be in any genre (prose, verse, drama) but must not exceed 2000 words of prose, or 40 lines of poetry. They must be on the theme of books and borrowing, and must make some use (however small) of one or more of the materials available here.

A cash prize of £250 is offered for the best entry in each category (Adult Writers and Young Writers (16 and under). The work of the winner and runner-up in each category will be published

Full details and the competition rules are available at Books and Borrowing Creative Writing Competition Announcement.

Online Creative Writing Workshop: Books and Borrowing, 31 August 2022

A workshop for writers of all levels of experience, using National Library of Scotland borrowing archives and historic maps to spark imaginations.

Have you ever thought of using archives as a starting point for creative writing? In this workshop we imagined the books that we know criss-crossed Edinburgh as part of Robert Chambers’ circulating library in the early 19th century, for which unique and detailed records remain. We created fictional biographies, wrote letters, and considered how a particular library book in certain hands could alter its own story. We discussed sources, pored over historic Edinburgh maps, and filled gaps with our imaginations.

Linda Cracknell is a writer of fiction, narrative non-fiction and drama who has drawn inspiration from a historic library – Innerpeffray in Perthshire – as well as the Archive for Edinburgh’s Royal Hospital for Children for characters and stories. Find out more about Linda’s work here.

‘Books and Borrowing: Edinburgh’s 19th Century Readers’, 23 June 2022

In conjunction with our partners at the National Library of Scotland, we held an online event, ‘Books and Borrowing: Edinburgh’s 19th Century Readers’ on Thursday 23 June 2022.

The Books and Borrowing team discussed the rich array of books, borrowers and libraries whose stories survive in records from across Scotland. We focussed in particular on those from Edinburgh, including those of Robert Chambers’s Circulating Library, and the Advocates Library, both held by the National Library of Scotland. The Chambers register is thought to be the only surviving record of borrowings from a library of its type, making it a unique window into the reading habits of nineteenth-century Edinburgh.

The event formed part of a collaborative project with the National Library of Scotland, which aims to transcribe the borrowing records of Robert Chambers’s Edinburgh Circulating Library, and introduce this exceptionally rare piece of reading history to a wider audience.

The NLS have played an invaluable role in conserving, digitising, and securing permissions for the use of the Chambers Register, and we’re grateful to them for hosting this event on Edinburgh’s 19th Century Readers as part of their regular webinar series.

Creative Writing Workshop: ‘The Pirate, The Library and the Sea’,
14 May 2022

This workshop was held at Orkney Library & Archive, Kirkwall, Orkney. It was led by writer Linda Cracknell whose seafaring forbears from Devon acquired Pirate in 1900, a coastal sailing Ketch built at Coplands Shipyard on the land at Stromness known as Gow’s Garden. You can read Linda’s reflections on the event here.

The workshop imaginatively explored the role of the sea and travel aboard a ship for a crew of characters. How might a ship’s library and particular books affect relationships and individuals in the face of limitless horizons? What letters will get written or ‘posted’ in a bottle? How might imaginations be aroused for good or ill?

The Borrowers’ Register from Kirkwall Library (one of those studied for the Books and Borrowing 1750-1830 project) reveals enthusiastic readerships in the nineteenth century for both local Mary Brunton’s best selling novel of moral excellence, Self Control, and Scott’s The Pirate, set largely in Kirkwall and dealing with the morally dubious antics of Orkney’s Pirate Gow.

Books and Borrowing in Eighteenth-Century Glasgow (in-person and online), 7 April 2022

What can historic library borrowing records tell us about the milieu that produced Adam Smith, the great theorist of capitalism; or James Watt, whose improvements to the steam engine propelled the industrial revolution? Which books were the students and professors at the eighteenth-century University of Glasgow actually reading? How Scottish was the Scottish Enlightenment?

A student borrowing register at Glasgow

A students’ borrowing register from the University of Glasgow.

Following an introduction from Dr Gerard McKeever (Stirling), there was be a series of talks from experts at Glasgow: Dr Kit Baston, Dr Michelle Craig, Dr Craig Lamont, Robert MacLean (GUL), Dr Dahlia Porter, Dr Craig Smith, Dr Matthew Sangster.

Library Lives at Innerpeffray Library: how historic library records can tell us about people of the past, 11 September 2021

Katie Halsey, Matthew Sangster, Isla Macfarlane, Marian Gerry and Alex Deans at the Books and Borrowing presentation

This event highlighted Innerpeffray’s unique Borrowers’ Register and the stories it can tell about the library’s books and borrowers. A variety of experts spoke about the place of Innerpeffray and other libraries in the amazing history of reading in Scotland, and participants found out how to uncover the world behind borrower names and book titles.

Part of Innerpeffray Library’s Festival of Reading – The Past on the Page

BARS Salon

We hosted a salon at Romantic Disconnections/Reconnections, BARS’ International Digital Conference which took place from 12-20 August 2021.

Our salon on ‘Romantic Period Book Circulation’ took place on 18 August. Those who registered for the salon were invited to examine some pages from our borrowing registers before the meeting. These can be found here.

Page from Innerpeffray Borrower's RegisterLibrary Lives: Books, Borrowers, and Beyond

The Books and Borrowing Project held its first public event  at the famous Innerpeffray Library on 22 May 2021.

This free online event highlighted Innerpeffray’s unique Borrowers’ Register and the stories it can tell about the library’s books and borrowers. The event included advice about the methods used to identify the people and books in Innerpeffray’s borrowing records.