Skip to main content

History of the Collections

Durham University’s historic libraries and archives are made up of over 700 individual collections from huge historic libraries to tiny personal collections of manuscripts, photographs or diaries. Over almost two centuries since Durham University was founded, our library and archive collections have been growing and evolving with new books, manuscripts and archives being added every year. 

The story of how many of these collections were created, and then found their way to the University, is often as interesting as the material contained within them.

Explore more

Follow the stories of Bishop Cosin, the Sharp family of Bamburgh, Martin Routh, and the Department of Palaeography and Diplomatic, as we discover how these amazing collections were born and survived the centuries.  

Bishop Cosin and his Library

Cosin’s 3,000 books would go on to form the foundation of a university library, which now contains almost a million books and is open to everyone.
Cosin's Library balcony with bookcases lined along it and a view of the lower level bookcases in the background

Bamburgh Library and the Sharp Family

The Bamburgh Library was created by three generations of the Sharp family between c.1660 and 1792.
The top half of the first page of the Bamburgh Library borrower register. Although the library was given to the Lord Crewe Trustees in 1792, it did not formally open until June 1797 (DUL Bamburgh MS B1, folio 1). Reproduced with permission of the Lord Crewe’s Trustees (TBC)

Martin Routh’s Library

Before the University was gifted Cosin’s Library, Routh’s collection of 15,000 volumes was the most significant early printed book collection the University owned.
View of the bookshelves in the Routh Library in the Exchequer Building.

Department of Palaeography and Diplomatic

The archive collections extend to eight miles of shelving, including the internationally important Sudan Archive, and are housed in the Pace Building.
Palace Green Library Exterior