15 July 2014

New College Library, University of Edinburgh

New College Library

We started the day today at New College Library, which is a part of the University of Edinburgh. The library holds over 250,000 items (50,000 of which are special collections) and is one of the United Kingdom's biggest theological libraries. The library is used primarily by the students of the Divinity School, but can also be accessed by other University of Edinburgh students and the public.

The space is absolutely stunning and was used until the 1930s as a church. The original pews were used as much as possible in the redesign, so the desks and shelving have a very unique look. The stained glass windows have an especially interesting story because they were funded by the church members but were finished after the space had become a library.

New College had an intriguing set of special collections items on display including a massive eighteenth-century Torah scroll. The scroll was left open to a place where we could see the details of the hand stitching holding the pieces together. They also had several editions of the Bible from the fourteenth century, including one made by the "printer to the Queenes most excellent Maiestie" in 1585, also known as Queen Elizabeth I's printer. It was interesting to see that the edition was printed with extensive notes in the margins because this edition was used by the church members, not the general public. There were also a couple of works by John Knox on display, which is especially relevant because his statue is in the courtyard outside of the building. There was also a first edition of John Calvin's Institutes of Christian Religion.

Hymnal collection
We were able to journey into the stacks outside of the main reading room where the journals, pamphlets, overflow books, some special collections, and oversize books are housed. Here lives one of my favorite parts of our time at New College -- a donated collection of old hymn books. My fingers itched to go through them, and I secretly hope one of the 1928 Oxford Book of Carols is among them. If not, many of the hymns from that amazing anthology are probably contained in these old hymnals from around the United Kingdom. Because some of my all-time favorite Christmas carols are old British ones no one in America has heard of (e.g., "Poverty," "Gloucestershire Wassail," "Children's Song of the Nativity," "Coventry Carol"), I would have loved to spend more time perusing the shelves.