Almost everyone has heard of Westminster Abbey, I know I have! But what I have never heard of is the Westminster Library, turns out there actually is one. I was also excited to find out that the British Studies Program had never visited this particular institution before and we would be the first to experience it.
There has been a church on the site where Westminster Abbey sits today for over 1,000 years. It was originally a monastic church and the room where the library is located today was a part of the monks dormitories. The space was far too large for the minimal amount of monks who lived in the abbey and the room was later divided up. Royal patronage at Westminster Abbey has always been a key element for the church.
From 1560 on a serious effort was made to reestablish a library at Westminster, and in 1583 the Dean of Westminster gave a large quantity of books to the library and he also donated the bookshelves. In 1587 William Camden was named as the very first librarian at Westminster.The collection very obviously has a strong emphasis on religion and theology in its collection, everything displayed in the collection was written prior to 1850. The library continued to grow throughout the years as various clergymen would donate their own private collections of books to the library upon their passing.
There are two distinct collections at the Westminster Library the Old collection and the New collection. The old collection is currently closed collection meaning that the library is no longer purchasing books to expand the collection. The New book collection which is actively growing focuses on all of the various aspects of Westminster. The archive at the Westminster Library contains administrative records for the abbey, the records go all the way back to the mid tenth century. The reading room at the library is very small, able to accommodate only two or three people at a time as such appointments must be made in order to use collection materials.
The librarians at Westminster answer questions from all over the world about the collection and the history of Westminster. As of right now they are just beginning to create a digital catalog and the card catalog is still the primary method for finding materials. Books at the Westminster Library are and always have been shelved by size not subject!
For more information about Westminster Library click here!