A note on the early history of
St Andrews University Library

By R. V. Pringle


See also Sources for Library History, 1-3


Though there are some indications of a pre-Reformation Common Library, the University Library proper dates from 1611/12, when it was refounded by James VI at the instigation of George Gledstanes, Archbishop of St Andrews.   The nucleus of the collection (around 350 volumes) consisted of donations by members of the Royal Family, by George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury (1562-1633), and by other leading figures of the period (see Sources for Library History, 1).   Many of these donations are still in the library.

Before 1612, and indeed for some time afterwards, the chief libraries in the University were those of the colleges.   The library of St Leonard's College was particularly important, having the advantage of a tradition whereby the principals of the college regularly bequeathed their books to the College Library; but both St Leonard's and St Salvator's Colleges benefited considerably from donations made by former students and regents, including George Buchanan (1506-1582), James Stewart, Earl of Moray, Regent of Scotland (c.1531-1579), Sir John Scot of Scotstarvit (1585-1670) and Sir John Wedderburn (1599-1679), the personal Physician to King Charles I.

Between 1612 and 1643, when what is now the Upper Hall in the Old University Library (in South Street, St Andrews) became ready for occupation, the Foundation Collection together with accretions to it was housed in St Mary's College and the duty of looking after it appears to have devolved on a regent or student of that college.

The completion of the original library building in South Street was made possible by the munificence of Alexander Henderson (1583-1646), the Covenanter, a former student and regent in the University and one of the University Commissioners of 1642 who established the office of Librarian as a bursar in St Mary's College.   To that post was appointed, in or around 1644, Thomas Lentron, whose catalogue or receipt list of the Library's contents (some 500 volumes) still survives (see Sources for Library History, 2).

After 1644, and almost certainly before 1687, the library of St Mary's College appears to have found its way to the new Common Library site.   If the Lentron list is complete it would tend to suggest that the College and Common Library collections had not yet been amalgamated by the time of his taking up office, given that there is little evidence of .

By the time of the University Commissioners' 'Visitation' in 1687 (see Sources for Library History, 3) the Library had grown considerably, to around 1500 volumes.   In 1710 it became entitled to copyright deposit privileges under the Act of the preceding year, and by 1764 the growth of the collection made it necessary to remodel and extend the library building, to which in 1783 the libraries of St Leonard's and St Salvator's Colleges were transferred.