Books and Borrowing 1750-1830

The Lending Library by Isaac Cruikshank (between 1800 and 1811)
The Lending Library by Isaac Cruikshank, 1764–1811, Paul Mellon Collection

Access the new Books and Borrowing Database

The Books and Borrowing Database, containing borrowing records covering eighteen different Scottish libraries active in the period between 1750 and 1830, is now available. Using formerly unexplored and underexplored borrowing records, the Books and Borrowing project has created a new resource that reveals hidden histories of book use, knowledge dissemination, and participation in literate culture. Drawing on the rare manuscript sources held at the project’s partner libraries and heritage centres the project establishes which books readers actually engaged with in the period.

The project was led by the Universities of Stirling and Glasgow and attracted funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Karen ‘Kit’ Baston gave a fascinating talk to the Old Edinburgh Club on 13 March 2024 about the project. She was a member of the research team as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Glasgow.

Edinburgh libraries feature

The database includes four Edinburgh libraries, each with a different type of borrower. The school boys of the Royal High School, the students of the University of Edinburgh, the lawyers of the Advocates Library, and the subscribers to the Chambers’ Circulating Library offer a varied and fascinating picture of reading lives previously hidden from view.

Searching the database

You can search the database searched in various ways: by library, by book title, by genre, by borrower, by language, by format, and more. A ‘Facts & Figures’ page reveals the most popular books and authors overall and there is a version of this for each library.

The Chambers’ Library is especially notable as the project team created an interactive map using the borrowers’ addresses and John Ainslie’s ‘Old and New Town of Edinburgh and Leith’ of 1804. This offers a unique insight into the New Town in 1827 to 1830.

Online exhibition

The Books and Borrowing team co-curated an online exhibition with the University of Edinburgh, ‘Library Lives: Hidden Histories of Reading in Georgian Edinburgh’ which focuses on the four Edinburgh libraries included in the project.

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