The Midway Point

We are now at the midway point of the Books and Borrowing project! We are eighteen months in, with eighteen left to go. It seemed, therefore, a good time to stop and reflect on what we have achieved so far, and what remains to be done.

I want to begin this reflection with some personal thanks to the amazing ‘Books and Borrowing’ team members, all of whom have been working incredibly hard to produce our results, often under the most difficult and trying of conditions. I don’t think any of us could have realised, in March of 2020, what these eighteen months would look like. But in the face of every difficulty, Alex, Brian, Cleo, Gerry, Isla, Jacqueline, Josh, Kit, Lauren, Matt, and Maxine have turned up at our weekly Zoom team meetings with news of discoveries of manuscript materials, positive news about progress in photography and transcription, exciting new research findings, technical fixes, ideas for public engagement activities and conference papers, plans for publications, and so much more. I am deeply grateful to each and every member of the team for their commitment, competence, and collegiality.

Warm thanks are also due to our project partners, who have continued to support the project despite their own Covid-related closures and difficulties. Digitisation units have been willing to prioritise work for us, archivists have allowed us in for extended hours to carry out photography, libraries have hosted our events, project partners have turned up to the events we’ve organised, and busy teachers have made time to meet us, even while dealing with the many challenges of teaching children online. Thank you all.

In terms of the progress we have made, I am glad to report that half-way through the project, we are also more than half way through our photography, transcription, and data entry programme, and have made our target of having entered more than 75,000 borrowing acts into our system. In the first year of the project, we built and refined our database, and worked out our various categorisation systems, as discussed by Kit here and by myself here.

List of subject for Books and Borrowing in wordcloud form
Subject Categories
Ladies select books at a circulating library.
A Circulating Library

Earlier this year we refined our decisions about numbers, focus and prioritisation, as discussed by Matt here and we feel we are on a good road towards meeting our numerical goals and targets, as well as answering our central research questions. We have expanded our remit from 13 to 18 libraries to increase the demographic and geographic reach of our data, and we are delighted that our data now includes material from a school library (the Royal High School), a private library (Craigston Castle Library), a circulating library (Chambers Circulating Library), a physician’s library (the Hunterian Museum Library) and an antimony miners’ library (Westerkirk Library).

Collectively, we have attended 5 conferences online, and organised two events: our BARS salon on Romantic-Period Book Circulation and our online workshop ‘Library Lives: Books, Borrowing and Beyond’ . We also participated in Innerpeffray Library’s wonderful Festival of Reading and in a workshop on ‘Reading and Writing Place’ for doctoral candidates organised by SGSAH.

Katie Halsey, Matthew Sangster, Isla Macfarlane, Marian Gerry and Alex Deans at the Books and Borrowing presentation at Innerpeffray’s Festival of Reading

Team members Brian, Kit and Matt have published an article, ‘Reconstructing Student Reading Habits in Eighteenth-Century Glasgow: Enlightenment Systems and Digital Reconfigurations’, Eighteenth-Century Studies 54, no. 4 (2021): 935-955. doi:10.1353/ecs.2021.0098  and the brilliant resource  Eighteenth-Century Borrowing from the University of Glasgow, described further here.

We were delighted to be joined, from May- August of 2021 by Jacqueline Kennard and Liv Gardener, who were funded by the Carnegie Trust’s Undergraduate Vacation Scholarships programme to undertake small research projects within the remit of the project’s wider research questions. Jacqueline’s exhibition, arising out of her research on the Leighton Library’s Water Drinker borrowers runs from September 2021 to March 2022 in the A corridor of the Pathfoot Building, University of Stirling. Do visit it if you are in the Stirling area!

Much remains to be done, of course, and the next eighteen months will see us continuing to photograph, digitise, transcribe and enter another 75,000 borrowing acts into the system. We will be building the user interface for the database in the early months of 2022, and will be looking for volunteers to beta-test that interface in the latter part of 2022. If you would be interested in being part of the beta-testing team, please do get in touch with Katie (

We will continue to blog weekly – early research findings always appear first on our blog – and our more lengthy research publications will begin to emerge in 2023. We will be holding four more workshops – a Creative Writing workshop in the Orkney Archives, led by Linda Cracknell, on 14 May 2022, a hands-on workshop in Glasgow University Library, on 7 April 2022, and two further online workshops, hosted in partnership with the National Library of Scotland, in the middle of 2022. Information about these will appear on our Events page in due course. Our materials for schools are currently in an advanced stage of preparation, and we’ll be working with our school partners to bring these to pupils soon.

We will hold the ‘Books and Borrowing’ conference in April of 2023, and we are beginning to plan for that now. Concurrently with the conference, our online exhibition, organised in partnership with Edinburgh University Library will open in April 2023. We are grateful to Bianca Packham and Elizabeth Quarmby-Lawrence for their help in planning for the online exhibition. And our Exhibition and Social Media Kit will also be available to project partners in early 2023.

I think we’ve probably earned our Christmas holidays! As our thoughts turn to the festive season, I’d like to take the opportunity to wish all readers of this blog a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.