Books and Borrowing 1750-1830

List of libraries

St Andrews University Library


Located in St Andrews. Founded in 1612. Type of library: Institutional. Collection: Still in situ.
Address: South Street, St Andrews, KY16 9JU
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This bar chart shows total borrowings by year, for the period 1747-1792. Of the 25 extant registers for our period, we have fully transcribed 5. This bar chart allows you to see which years have been transcribed at a glance, and gaps in this bar chart represent periods for which we have not transcribed borrowings, not ones where no borrowings are recorded. The small number of borrowings in the 1820s represent the first pages of a register which has not been completely transcribed.

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Library description

St Andrews University Library was founded with the patronage of King James VI and I in 1612 to hold a collection that dates back to the original establishment of the university between 1410 and 1413. The King James Library was initially named after its royal patron, and from 1642 was housed on South Street together with St Mary's College Library. The building was remodelled to raise the height of the walls and add a gallery in the 1760s; in the period under study, further renovations include those across 1829–30. In 1783, the separate college libraries were formally amalgamated into a common university library collection. Significant renovations were made to the premises in both 1890 and 1908, allowing the main library collection to remain on South Street until the opening of its current location on North Street in 1976.

The borrowing (and other administrative) records of the University of St Andrews in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are uniquely extensive among Scottish libraries. Some of the data here builds on work carried out as part of the university's own 'Borrowing Registers Transcription Project',

Borrower description

As reflected in the borrowing records, the university library was primarily used by professors and the active student body, although alumni, professors' family members and townsfolk were sometimes granted privileges. The 1826 Royal Commission noted that 'Gentleman who are engaged in literary pursuits though residing at a distance are, on application to the Senatus Academicus, in general allowed the use of books from the Library' (262). The library regulations altered over the course of the period of study: 1734 regulations stipulated opening times of 10am-12noon 'all the teaching days of every week' plus 2pm-4pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. This had contracted by 1826 to 9am-11am on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday for students, with a separate one hour per day, three days a week for professors. Matthew Sangster notes that while professors had 'almost unimpeded access' to books, students also 'possessed generous borrowing rights, being permitted to take books away for up to six weeks in 1734' (952). By 1826, Arts students at the United College were allowed two volumes at a time, while Divinity students at St Mary's College were allowed four, with loans extending to three weeks. Also in 1826, there were different annual fees charged to categories of students for use of the library: 'seconders' at the United College 5s., 'terners' at the United College 2s 6d., divinity students at St Mary's college 3s. The terms 'primar', 'seconder' and 'terner' referred to the social rank of the students.

James Maitland Anderson summarises the Arts curricula at St Andrews thus: ‘Students were expected to begin with the language classes, to commence the study of Mathematics as early as possible, and to attend successively Logic, Moral Philosophy, and Natural Philosophy, each one session. History did not come within the scope of the curriculum, nor […] did Medicine. Latin and Greek were the favoured classes.’ However, ‘Students were also recommended to avail themselves of the opportunity of attending History and Chemistry, and the lectures on such other subjects as were from time to time offered’ (xxiv-xxv).

Holding description

The University of St Andrews was relatively impoverished in financial terms during the period of study, limiting the library's capacity to purchase books. However, along with the other Scottish universities, between 1709 and 1836 St Andrews was legally entitled to copies of all newly published books registered at Stationer's Hall under the terms of the 1710 Copyright Act. Matthew Simpson estimates that the collection numbered around 3000 volumes in 1709; by the time copyright deposit privileges were removed in 1836 this had increased to 'at least 27,000', rendering the library 'the University's most impressive asset' (1-2). Matthew Sangster notes that 'by 1800, about sixty per cent of St Andrews' collection consisted of legal deposit books' (948) and that the works publishers undertook to enter at Stationers' Hall tended towards vernacular literature.

Since a large number of the library's holdings survive, it has been possible to identify specific editions for a large number of texts. In the absence of other information, edition matches here return to the first plausible edition.


  • Matriculation records: The Biographical Register of the University of St Andrews 1747-1897,
  • Accessions records: UYLY105/6 Shelf Catalogue 1734,
  • Accessions records: UYLY105/8 Shelf Catalogue 1768,
  • Accessions records: UYLY105/10 Shelf Catalogue 1779,
  • Accessions records: UYLY105/12 Shelf Catalogue 1789,

Secondary sources

James Maitland Anderson (ed.), The Matriculation Roll of the University of St Andrews 1747–1897 (Edinburgh and London: Blackwood, 1905).

Philip Ardagh, ‘St Andrews University Library and the Copyright Acts’, Edinburgh Bibliographical Society Transactions, 3 (1948–1955), 180–211.

Robert Crawford, Devolving English Literature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992).

Robert Crawford (ed.), Launch-Site for English Studies: Three Centuries of Literary Studies at the University of St Andrews (St Andrews: Verse, 1997).

Robert Crawford (ed.), The Scottish Invention of English Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

Evidence, Oral and Documentary, Taken and Received by The Commissioners Appointed by His Majesty George IV., July 23d 1826; and Re-Appointed by His Majesty William IV., October 12th 1830; for Visiting the Universities of Scotland, Vol. 3: University of St. Andrews (London: Clowes, 1837).

1734 Library Regulations, from the Senatus Academus minutes, 20 February 1734, printed in Library Bulletin of the University of St Andrews: Vol. I – 1901-1903 (St Andrews, 1904), 444.

Matthew Sangster, 'Copyright Literature and Reading Communities in Eighteenth-Century St Andrews', The Review of English Studies, 68.287 (2017): 945–67.

Matthew Simpson, 'St Andrews University Library in the Eighteenth Century: Scottish Education and Print-Culture' (PhD dissertation, University of St Andrews, 1999).

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Aberdeen Theological Library

Location: Aberdeen
Foundation date: 1700
Type of library: Institutional
Number of library registers: 7
Number of books: 360
Number of borrowers: 278
Number of library records: 3333

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Advocates Library

Also known as Advocates' Library

Location: Edinburgh
Foundation date: 1682
Type of library: Institutional
Number of library registers: 54
Number of books: 5899
Number of borrowers: 932
Number of library records: 11812

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Chambers' Circulating Library

Also known as Robert Chambers' Circulating Library

Location: Edinburgh
Foundation date: 1828
Type of library: Other
Number of library registers: 1
Number of books: 919
Number of borrowers: 311
Number of library records: 7319

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Craigston Castle Library

Location: Craigston
Foundation date: 1604
Type of library: Other
Number of library registers: 1
Number of books: 396
Number of borrowers: 189
Number of library records: 684

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Dumfries Presbytery Library

Location: Dumfries
Foundation date: c.1706
Type of library: Other
Number of library registers: 1
Number of books: 636
Number of borrowers: 249
Number of library records: 3475

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Edinburgh University Library

Also known as University of Edinburgh Library

Location: Edinburgh
Foundation date: 1582
Type of library: Institutional
Number of library registers: 36
Number of books: 2339
Number of borrowers: 2069
Number of library records: 14638

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Glasgow University Library

Also known as University of Glasgow Library

Location: Glasgow
Foundation date: 1451
Type of library: Institutional
Number of library registers: 8
Number of books: 3476
Number of borrowers: 1013
Number of library records: 15372

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Haddington Library

Also known as John Gray Library

Location: Haddington
Foundation date: 1717
Type of library: Other
Number of library registers: 2
Number of books: 462
Number of borrowers: 743
Number of library records: 5187

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Hunterian Museum Library

Location: Glasgow
Foundation date: 1807
Type of library: Institutional
Number of library registers: 1
Number of books: 244
Number of borrowers: 42
Number of library records: 368

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Innerpeffray Library

Also known as The Library of Innerpeffray

Location: Innerpeffray
Foundation date: 1680
Type of library: Other
Number of library registers: 1
Number of books: 793
Number of borrowers: 1182
Number of library records: 5393

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Inverness Kirk Sessions Library

Also known as Inverness Presbyterial Library

Location: Inverness
Foundation date: 1706
Type of library: Institutional
Number of library registers: 1
Number of books: 38
Number of borrowers: 20
Number of library records: 61

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Leighton Library

Also known as Bibliotheca Leightoniana
Leightonian Library
Library of Dunblane

Location: Dunblane
Foundation date: 1688
Type of library: Subscription
Number of library registers: 5
Number of books: 809
Number of borrowers: 306
Number of library records: 6737

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Orkney Library

Also known as Kirkwall Library, Orkney Subscription Library

Location: Kirkwall
Foundation date: 1683
Type of library: Subscription
Number of library registers: 4
Number of books: 236
Number of borrowers: 127
Number of library records: 1636

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Royal High School of Edinburgh

Also known as High School of Edinburgh

Location: Edinburgh
Foundation date: 1658
Type of library: Institutional
Number of library registers: 5
Number of books: 1966
Number of borrowers: 2410
Number of library records: 19968

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Selkirk Library

Also known as Selkirk Subscription Library

Location: Selkirk
Foundation date: 1772
Type of library: Subscription
Number of library registers: 2
Number of books: 832
Number of borrowers: 179
Number of library records: 11812

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St Andrews University Library

Location: St Andrews
Foundation date: 1612
Type of library: Institutional
Number of library registers: 25
Number of books: 7560
Number of borrowers: 673
Number of library records: 21578

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Wigtown Subscription Library

Location: Wigtown
Foundation date: 1795
Type of library: Subscription
Number of library registers: 4
Number of books: 345
Number of borrowers: 103
Number of library records: 6230