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Library Hub Discover: highlighting Specialist Libraries and Historic Collections

This blog post forms part of History Day 2020, a day of online interactive events for students, researchers and history enthusiasts to explore library, museum, archive and history collections across the UK and beyond.

Jisc Library Hub Discover, a free service, exposes rare and unique research material by bringing together the catalogues of over 165 major UK and Irish libraries. In a single search you can discover the holdings of the UK’s National Libraries (including the British Library), many university libraries, and specialist research libraries.

Here’s a selection of the specialist libraries and historic collections you can explore on Discover:

Chetham's Library, Manchester.
Chetham’s Library, Manchester. Image copyright: Chetham’s.

Chetham’s Library is the oldest surviving free public library in the UK and was founded in 1653 as a library ‘for the use of scholars and others well affected’ in the will of a local merchant, Humphrey Chetham. The whole of its collections are desginated as of national importance under the Arts Council scheme. The early collecting policy of the Library was to accumulate academic works, and it is thus strong in early modern works on theology, medicine, natural sciences, law, classics, history, geography and travel. After the mid 19th century it specialised in collecting British history with a strong bias towards the North West of England and has significant holdings of sources for Manchester history. Find out more about the Library and explore their collections on Discover.

Durham Cathedral Library can trace its origins to the library of the monastery founded at Lindisfarne by St Aidan in 635 AD, and houses the largest in situ medieval library in the UK, with manuscripts dating from the 6th century. It also maintains a large collection of early printed volumes across a variety of subjects, as well as a modern theology library. Find out more on the library information page , in our Durham Cathedral’s Treasures blog post and explore their collections on Discover. Discover also includes the Cathedral Libraries Catalogue (pre-1701 European books).

Eton College Library was established in the 1440s as the library of the Provost and Fellows, who form the governing body of Eton College. Today it holds more than 150,000 items, ranging from the 9th to 21st centuries. Find out more about the Library and explore their collections on Discover.

Foundling Museum Library
Foundling Museum Library. Image copyright: the Foundling Museum.

Gerald Coke Handel Collection, The Foundling Museum: The collection focuses on Handel and his musical contemporaries in Britain, and comprises over12,000 items relating to 18th century music. These include about 1,000 manuscripts, as well as printed books, music scores, libretti, performance ephemera and artworks from the 18th century to the present; the collection now acquires modern research and antiquarian material, including sound recordings. Read more about the collection in our blog post and explore on Discover.

Institute of Naval Medicine - Historic Collections Library
Institute of Naval Medicine – Historic Collections Library. Image copyright: Institute of Naval Medicine.

Institute of Naval Medicine – Historic Collections Library: The Institute of Naval Medicine (INM) is a Centre of Excellence bringing together scientists and medical professionals to improve the health of the UK Armed Forces. The Historic Collections Library is held in INM’s Monckton House, which was built in the 1840s as the residence of a local brewer. The books it holds were the working collections of the Victorian naval surgeons and physicians at the Royal Naval Hospitals of Haslar (Gosport) and Stonehouse (Plymouth), with a few titles from other naval establishments. The collections now comprise one of the few specific resources for naval medical history. Find out more about the Library and explore their collections on Discover.

Llyfrgell Gendlaethol Cymru / National Library of Wales is located in Aberystwyth on the Ceredigion coastline. As well as being a copyright library, the Library houses millions of books, journals, newspapers, manuscripts, film reels, videos, photographs, art works and more, all pertaining to Wales and the Welsh way of living throughout the years. Find out more on the library information page and explore their collections on Discover.

Plate 7 from Edward Lear’s Illustrations of the family of Psittacidœ, or parrots. Macrocercus aracanga (red and yellow Maccaw). London: E. Lear, 1832.
Plate 7 from Edward Lear’s Illustrations of the family of Psittacidœ, or parrots. Macrocercus aracanga (red and yellow Maccaw). London: E. Lear, 1832. Copyright: the Linnean Society Library.

The Linnean Society’s Library holds outstanding historical works of natural history, and is a major repository for information on plant and animal classification, as well as the life and work of Carl Linnaeus. Find out more on the library information page, in our blog post and explore their collections on Discover.

The National Trust owns 140 historic libraries (around 230,000 books in 400,000 volumes), generally preserved in the places where they were originally assembled and read. Many are country house libraries, some collected by wealthy bibliophiles, others containing more practical everyday books, including rare provincial printing. Other collections reflect the interests of middle-class readers; some were assembled by literary figures, such as Kipling and Shaw.

National Trust Library
National Trust Library. Image copyright: National Trust.

Together these libraries provide an unparalleled resource for the study of the history of private book ownership in Britain and Ireland. Find out more about the Library and explore their collections on Discover.

Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow: The College library was founded in 1698 when the College acquired its first permanent building, and contains works dating from the 15th century onwards. Being the only royal medical college for physicians, surgeons and dentists in the United Kingdom means that its holdings contain a wide range of medical subjects. Many of the key medical, anatomical and surgical texts of the 16th and 17th centuries are represented and the Library is particularly strong in the areas of anatomy, medicine, surgery, botany and materia medica in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Find out more about the Library and explore their collections on Discover.

Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow
Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow Library. Image copyright: Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.

SOAS Library, University of London: SOAS is a leading centre for the study of diverse subjects relating to Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It holds over 1.2 million volumes plus special collections, archives and electronic resources. Two thirds of the Special Collections and archives relate to British missionary societies and missionaries making it the main centre for missionary studies in the UK. Find out more about the Library and explore their collections on Discover.

The Queen's University Belfast
The Queen’s University Belfast. Image copyright: Queen’s University Belfast.

Queen’s University Belfast has extensive collections on three sites. The McClay Library is situated at the heart of the University’s main campus and covers the arts, humanities, social sciences, science and engineering. It also houses the Special Collections of rare and manuscript materials, the University Archives and the Northern Ireland Official Publications Archive. Find out more about the Library and explore their collections on Discover.

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