To celebrate National Libraries Week, which takes place this week, and to coincide with the 140th anniversary of the founding of The Mitchell Library, the famous Glasgow landmark is offering an opportunity to view a number of rare items and treasures from its collections on Wednesday 11th October at 1pm.
Items on display will include a 12th century Psalter – the oldest book in the library’s collection – a late 14th century French Book of Hours, Thomas Annan’s Old Closes and Streets, a facsimile of Audubon’s Birds of America – one of the greatest works of ornithology containing life-sized, hand coloured depictions of 1065 North American birds – and Robert Burns, Poems Chiefly in the Scots Dialect (Kilmarnock edition), alongside images and design competition plans of the original North Street building, the first book donated to the library and the first location book.
Opened in 1877, The Mitchell Library, one of Europe’s largest public libraries, owes its existence, and name, to Stephen Mitchell who bequeathed the bulk of his fortune on his death to the Corporation of the City of Glasgow to: “form the nucleus of a fund for the establishment and endowment of a large Public Library in Glasgow, with all the modern accessories connected therewith.”
Councillor David McDonald, Chair of Glasgow Life, said: “This city is forever indebted to the generosity of Stephen Mitchell. His gift to Glasgow allowed our forefathers to open a large public library for the people of our city. Today, this bustling cultural and information hub holds over one million items of stock and is renowned as one of the best in the world.
“This week, The Mitchell Library is embracing National Libraries Week, and celebrating its 140th anniversary, by providing a unique opportunity to see some of the oldest and rarest books in our collections. I’d encourage Glaswegians and visitors to the city alike to head to the Mitchell Library and experience these important treasures of our city for themselves.”
The first incarnation of The Mitchell Library was opened in November 1877 on the corner of Ingram Street and Albion Street with a collection of 5000 volumes. By the time it moved to its temporary home in Miller Street in 1891 the library boasted more than 150,000 books and could accommodate 4,000 readers.
The library struggled at Miller Street and so, following the substantial bequest of Robert Jeffrey’s library of 4000 books, including Audubon’s Birds of America, a permanent home was found in North Street and the doors to The Mitchell Library as we know it today were opened in 1911. Today, the library is home to more than one million items, and welcomes over 500,000 visitors every year.
The early years also saw the foundation of the library’s two main special collections; the Scottish Poetry Collection and the Glasgow Collection. Mitchell Library visitors will be able to view items from both collections on Wednesday.
Thomas Annan’s Old Closes and Streets, from the Glasgow collection, will be on show following its loan to The J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles earlier this year. The 1900 photogravure edition of 50 images of the narrow streets and alleyways around Glasgow’s High Street is based on negatives taken by Annan himself between 1868 and 1899.
The Scottish Poetry collection will be highlighted by Burns’ Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, published 31st July 1786. This rare Kilmarnock edition contains many of Burns’ best-loved works including ‘To a Mouse’, ‘Address to the Deli’ and ‘The Twa Dogs’.
Library visitors keen to view these items, alongside other pieces from The Mitchell Library’s Special Collections, are invited to visit the Granville Street Let’s Talk area of The Mitchell Library on Wednesday at 1pm. No booking is required.