Leighton Library Borrowers Project

Today’s blog post comes from Jill Dye, a second-year PhD student on a SGSAH-funded Applied Research Collaboration with the Universities of Stirling and Dundee and the Library of Innerpeffray. Whilst her PhD research focuses on borrowers from the Library of Innerpeffray 1747-1854, Jill has been using the archives at the University of Stirling to research the borrowers from another of Scotland’s early publicly accessible libraries as part of the Scottish Universities Research Collections Associate Scheme (SURCAS) Pilot.

Library Exterior

Leighton Library Exterior 

The Leighton Library, Dunblane, was founded in 1688 through the will of Robert Leighton (1611-1684), former Bishop of Dunblane and Archbishop of Glasgow, and is thought to be the oldest purpose-built library in Scotland. The University of Stirling entered into a unique partnership with the library in 1989, where the Leighton books are recorded in the University’s library catalogue, and can be called into the University’s research room for consultation, but remain in the building that was always intended for them. As a volunteer at the Leighton Library, I became aware that very few books were being called to the research room and that the archives of the library (moved to the University to be held in archival-standard conditions) were rarely consulted. The SURCAS scheme has allowed me to raise awareness of this partnership and to promote the use of this collection and the treasures within it.

Register Snapshot

Snapshot from Borrowers’ Register 

Academic interest in the library has centred on its foundation and early history, so I decided to focus on the continuing history of the library and its place in Dunblane life in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Originally founded in “Dunblane in Scotland to remaine there for the vse of the Clergie of that Diocess”, the library’s trustees opened use of the library in 1734 to anyone able to pay a yearly subscription. The library’s borrowing records, which appear to be complete between 1780-1833, tend to give not only names and books borrowed, but also the occupation and address of those borrowing. Through my work with the more extensive borrowers’ records at Innerpeffray I know just how valuable this type of resource is not only to academics, but also to family and local historians. Books selected for borrowing, along with how and when they were borrowed, give rare insight into the library lives of each person.

Library Interior

Leighton Library Interior 

The website created from the project will explore the borrowings of selected Leighton Library users, using, where possible, local and family history sources to place the records of their borrowing into the wider context of their lives. These individuals range from well-known figures such as the writer John Ramsay of Ochtertyre, to a Minister from St Ninians, a local Surgeon, and even a female visitor to the Dunblane Mineral Springs. In a recent guest post on the project website, fellow PhD Student Maxine Branagh-Miscampbell commented on the borrowings of a local student, D Munro – a Grammar school boy. The site will also eventually include an index of names recorded in the register so that anyone researching local individuals can easily identify whether they appear in the record. The project will culminate in a display of material from the Leighton Archives followed by a short talk, free and open to the public. More details on the event are available here.

While the ultimate aim of the project has been to encourage use of the archives at the University of Stirling by the general public, it has been an invaluable experience to me as a PhD student, and one I would recommend to anyone. Whilst I already volunteered as guide at the Leighton Library (I’d also recommend this!) I knew very little of its later history, and had no idea about the richness of its archives housed in my own institution. It’s given me the opportunity to gain experience in a wide range of areas (creating a website from scratch, writing for a non-academic audience, researching without a supervisor, events organisation and marketing) and created tangible outcomes, which are all too rare in the PhD process. Further it’s given me a much greater insight into how the Leighton Library is both similar to and so very different from the Library of Innerpeffray, the main focus of my PhD.

If you’d like to know more about the project visit leightonborrowers.com

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