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Durham University

Research & business

Sharing our 350-year-old library with the world

(17 December 2019)

We’re proud to be home to the earliest public library in the North East of England, Cosin’s Library, established in 1669 by John Cosin, Bishop of Durham for the benefit of the local community.

Cosin’s Library is home to outstanding collections and we are delighted, 350 years later, to have received funding from Arts Council England to help bring this to a wider audience nationally and internationally.

Exploring historic collections

We have been awarded over £85,000 from Arts Council England’s Designation Development Fund, which recognises, celebrates and champions significant collections and helps to develop their research and usability.

The two-year project, which starts in January 2020, will develop an online gateway enabling you to explore the collection and the beautiful building it is housed in from wherever you are in the world. This will include digitised copies of Bishop Cosin’s letter books, early catalogues and registers, and a searchable database of images and transcriptions.

The project will also include specialist cataloguing and research work to learn more about the collection and how it was used from 17th to 19th Century.

An Artist-in-Residence will be commissioned create works inspired by the Library, and different experts will offer public talks on caring for historic books, furniture and buildings.

We will also give 90 schoolchildren from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to work towards Arts Awards, using drama to interpret the story of the creation of the Library.

Internationally important collection

Liz Waller, Director of Libraries and Collections, said: “Bishop Cosin’s Library is home to outstanding collections and we are delighted to have received funding from Arts Council England to help bring this to a wider audience nationally and internationally.

“The 17th century library building and collection have important stories to tell which we are excited to share through this project, demonstrating how ancient collections can still play a vital role in society in the 21st century.”

Arts Council England’s Designation Development Fund supports projects that ensure the long-term sustainability of Designated museum and library collections.

Cosin’s Library and its collections were granted Designated status in 2005 as part of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council Designation Scheme, which identifies and celebrates collections of national and international importance held in England's non-national museums, libraries and archives.

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