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Durham University

Special Collections

A special place in the heart of Durham: Bishop Cosin’s Library

Founded in 1669, Bishop John Cosin’s Library (originally called the Episcopal Library) is one of the earliest public libraries in the north of England. It was established for the use of Church of England clergy, lawyers and other educated gentlemen in the Diocese of Durham. Until 1858 the diocese consisted of Durham and Northumberland. In 1833, the Library formed part of the newly established University of Durham and since 1937 the University is the sole trustee for the building and its contents.

The interior of Bishop Cosin's Library

The foundation of the library was part of a programme of improvements around Palace Green started by Bishop Cosin (1595-1672) after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. During the English Civil War, the spiritual and temporal power of the Bishops of Durham had decreased significantly. The building programme was one of the ways Cosin tried to re-establish the bishops’ authority.

In 2005, the library was awarded Designated status by the MLA (the predecessor of Arts Council England) in recognition of its national significance.

Over the last few years, we have had to undertake a large programme of repair and restoration to the fabric of the library building and the adjoining Exchequer Building. We hope both buildings will re-open late in 2020 or in early 2021.

To celebrate Cosin’s Library, we are now also working on a project to improve the discoverability of the collection and to increase our understanding of what motivated John Cosin to build the library, how the library has been used over time, and how best to share our knowledge with others.

One of our aims is to create an online gateway to the resources relating to Cosin’s Library and new content will be added to our website as the project progresses.

Contact details

Special Collections
Palace Green Library
Palace Green
United Kingdom
: +44 (0)191 334 2972