Historical donations to the University Library

HF Jones - A page from the Donations Register

A page from the Donations Register. An example of handwriting better than mine

We have used our blog to talk about a number of donations that the University Library has recently received: Bertrand Russell translations, the Glynne Parker and Schobert film collections, the Denis Mack Smith donation in Italian, and the Yakimiuk collection. We have discussed, in the course of these posts, how to find the books in these donations—in general, they’re either all placed together, or there’s a way to find them all via the catalogue. However, as the University Library has benefitted since its existence from the generosity of benefactors, the Library’s practice in recognising and recording these donations has changed over time. This post explains how the Library has historically recognised and recorded donations of books.

For over 100 years, significant donations of books were recorded in the ‘Donations registers’, which are today held in the Archives of Cambridge University Library (ULIB 7/1/56). These registers were used to record donations of material to the University Library, and to make note of their provenance and the bibliographical information of each book. These registers run from 1871-1995, in a total of 55 volumes.

In addition to the Donations registers, the UL historically also recorded donations in the ‘Registers of donations collected’, which are also held in the Archives (ULIB 7/1/57). These are in 4 volumes running from 1923-1994. These are primarily larger donations than in the ‘Donations registers’, and record significant gifts that were considered to be collections—these are organised in alphabetical order of donor, rather than in chronological order, and also record the Library’s decisions regarding how to handle the material: bookplates, if used, were pasted into the register, and further notes were sometimes added regarding the donation’s provenance (for instance, if the donation was shared between the UL and a college library).

These registers primarily served several purposes:

  • they allowed librarians to trace the books that were received from donors. This allowed librarians and scholars to consider the donation as a collection, even when the books were not physically kept together once in the Library.
  • they allowed librarians to trace the provenance of books in the Library’s general collection, and to find out where they came from.
  • they allowed librarians to look at the UL’s donations received from a historical perspective, allowing them to see where donations have come from, and what types of books have been donated. This allowed, for instance, librarians to see that a significant number of books in certain languages are the result of just one or two donations (as is the case with Afrikaans).

However, these registers were no longer necessary. By the mid-1990s, written ledgers of books received were made obsolete by the electronic catalogue, and the way that the Library could record donations within catalogue records. Now, the library is able to record these donations in a variety of ways:

  • As detailed in previous posts, the UL has been the grateful beneficiary of donations of books from the libraries of the University of Bradford and the University of the West of England. We are able to record this information within the record (as demonstrated in this record)
  • In the case of some donations, this information is recorded with the additional benefit of being able to browse in the catalogue based on the donor (for instance, it should be possible to locate all books donated by Elisabeth Stopp by searching for her name in the catalogue)
  • In some case, significant collections are mentioned in the Library’s Annual Report, with the focus of the collection often mentioned.
  • One of the benefits of our library webpages and blogs is that we are able to highlight significant aspects of donations.
The bookplate pasted into the front of all the books bequeathed by Ronald Edmond Balfour to the Library records events of similar historical import, although on a personal rather geopolitical scale.

The bookplate pasted into the front of all the books bequeathed by Ronald Edmond Balfour to the Library records events of similar historical import to that of Temperley, although on a personal rather than global scale.

We have, for example, in the past highlighted the donations of Harold William Vazeille Temperley and Henry Festing Jones on our French Collections webpages. Temperley’s donation is of particular interest in that it was a bequest with a particular focus on Polish and Czechoslovak history, with specific strengths in the diplomatic history of the First World War. Temperley died in 1939, and the donation was physically received in the UL in the last week of August and the first week of September of that year.

Using this blog, we have tried to draw attention to significant works and collections donated to the Library. However, the Library has been the beneficiary of such a wide range of material that we have only been able to highlight a small amount of this material. Using the Library’s catalogue, as well as its archives, it is possible to trace the provenance of a far greater number of gifts than we can detail.

Josh Hutchinson

2 thoughts on “Historical donations to the University Library

    • Excellent! Thank you.

      I particularly like this: “A good hand, mindful of tradition, was one of the indicators of scholarly acumen which a Cambridge librarian should exhibit … “

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