Private Books for Educational Use - the Formation of the Northern Congregational College Library

The Northern Congregational College Project makes available in digital form the Catalogue of the Library of the Lancashire Independent College, Manchester (1885) and details of the 2,400 surviving books from the library of the Northern Congregational College, formed in 1958 from the amalgamation of two major Congregational colleges founded in the nineteenth century, Lancashire Independent College and Yorkshire United Independent College. In 1984 the Northern Congregational College became Northern College (United Reformed and Congregational). Most such libraries were founded on private collections and supplemented over generations through bequest and donation. Selected books were acquired in 1975/6 by the The John Rylands Library, Manchester. These books, dating from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, are unusually rich in provenance and evidence of use. Perhaps most interesting are the marks of ownership and use of the everyday reader – men and women who owned only a handful of books and whose annotations are the only evidence of their interaction with them.

The details, including high-resolution images of bookplates, inscriptions and annotations, are now published on Dissenting Academies Online: Virtual Library System, a union catalogue which represents the holdings and loans of selected Baptist, Congregational, and Presbyterian/Unitarian academies in England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The project has a number of applications and benefits: it will engage those currently training Congregational ministers in their own heritage and educational history; it will provide a model for librarians and book historians for recovering information about dispersed and lost book collections; it will show contemporary private libraries how they can make their own historic library collections searchable online through the model of the VLS; and it will introduce religious, educational, social, library, and book historians to a new way of researching the history of reading.

Together with Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia,
the VLS forms part of the ongoing Dissenting Academies Project, directed by Professor Isabel Rivers and Dr David Wykes, and based at the Dr Williams’s Centre for Dissenting Studies, a collaboration between Queen Mary, University of London, and Dr Williams’s Library, London.