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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)


The list below shows Durham University research staff who are members of IMEMS. Click the member's name to see a more detailed biography and department.

We also welcome anyone from outside the University with an interest in our work to join. Membership is free of charge. You will receive invitations to our programme of events, with a weekly emails digest about what is happening in the Insitute and further afield. To join IMEMS contact:

Publication details for Professor Geoffrey Scarre

Scarre, Geoffrey (2017). ‘The compages, the bonds and rivets of the race’ W. E. Gladstone on the keeping of books. Library and Information History 33(3): 182-194.

Author(s) from Durham


For the great Victorian Liberal statesman and Prime Minister W. E. Gladstone, books were the ‘voices of the dead’ and ‘a main instrument of communication with the vast human procession of the other world’. Gladstone's 1890 article ‘On Books and the Housing of Them’ combines a celebration of the value and civilizing influence of books with practical suggestions for the organization of an academic library. Unlike such contemporaries as Sir Thomas Phillipps and the Earls of Crawford, Gladstone was a book-lover rather than a bibliomane, who bought books for their contents rather than their rarity or beauty. The residential library of St. Deiniol's, North Wales (now renamed Gladstone's Library), which he established towards the end of his life primarily to serve the needs of Anglican clergymen, follows the spirit of his 1890 paper and adopts many of its practical suggestions. Like Antonio Panizzi of the British Museum, his friend of many years, Gladstone was particularly concerned with the problem of how libraries could accommodate the ever-increasing number of books without becoming mere book warehouses. Gladstone's solution was to shelve books according to their ‘sociability’, so that less sociable items could be relegated to mobile shelving or other maximum-density storage areas. Libraries, for Gladstone, should be not only well-organized and efficiently run repositories of research material but friendly and welcoming centres of scholarship and meeting places for readers. In a well-run library, scholars should be able to enjoy the society of books and of one another. Gladstone's Library continues to this day to realize the high ideals set by its founder, providing to researchers the opportunity for scholarly collaboration which Gladstone though essential in the evening of the age of the solitary scholar.