University of Edinburgh, New College Library

The New College Library started life in the 1840’s when the Free Church of Scotland split off from the Church of Scotland (and I’m sure no one got confused whatsoever by the similarities in the names there).  Once the theological split occurred, the Free Church rapidly found that they needed a university to train new ministers, and the founders were rather keen on the idea of libraries.

University of Edinburgh

They apparently targeted women for donations of books- because they didn’t think that women were making the best use possible of the books that they owned. The mental contortions people went (and still go) through to justify misogyny are incredible to me.

The library eventually merged with the University of Edinburgh, which is considerably older than the Free Church, and by now can handle any religion or none at all, though their historical collections are largely Protestant. The special collections make up a large chunk of the overall collection, and not all of them are even currently included in the online catalog. Cataloging, however, is somewhat entertaining. The entirety of the University of Edinburgh moved to Library of Congress cataloging in 2002, and not all of New College has completely caught up. Their former classification system, the Union Theological Seminary system, looks quite similar, which has caused a few issues in finding things on the shelves.

What struck me as very odd to modern information science people was that prior to 1936, there was no open access to any material- any person wanting a book had to request it from a librarian, who could refuse to get it if he didn’t think you should have that material for whatever reason. I’ve had to walk people to books or information that I, personally, find abhorrent and would prefer to forget ever existed, but you can’t just refuse to give an adult a book because you, personally, don’t think they need to have it for whatever reason you, personally, dream up. I dunno, I suppose I got into this profession because I like matching people with information, not because I want to stand on the bridge yelling “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

I also enjoyed the special collections, because there’s some weird stuff in special collections… including unicorns on Noah’s Ark, as shown in Edward Wells “An historical geography of the Old and New Testament,” from 1809.

Row C, close to the middle

Row C, close to the middle.

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