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Durham University

Department of Theology and Religion


Durham University takes over responsibility for the Catholic National Library.

(19 October 2015)

An agreement has been reached between the Trustees of the Catholic National Library (CNL) and Durham University that the Library, founded in 1912, will be taken into the care of Durham University.

Following the move to Durham, which was completed last month, the Secretary of the CNL Trustees, Antony Tyler said: “My fellow trustees have been searching for some time for the optimal way of carrying forward the Library’s work for its next hundred years. Durham University Library met a large number of our criteria. The University has an existing commitment to the study of the important contribution made by Catholicism. This has clearly been shown by the decision to establish its Centre for Catholic Studies in 2007 and by its work with the important collections at Ushaw College. We have also noted the University Library’s recent acquisition of important complementary collections of other Christian denominations. These and the CNL collection will further enhance Durham University’s status as one of the leading Universities in the world for the study of religion. We have also been impressed by its strong commitment to public outreach, and the high level of conservation skills. Existing CNL members can be assured that our historic Library is in safe hands.“


Mr Tyler added: “My trustees are hugely grateful to Dom Cuthbert Brogan, OSB, Abbot of St Michael’s Abbot, and to the Empress Eugenie Trust. Through Dom Cuthbert’s support the Abbey has provided the Library with a home for ten years. In recognition of this, and of the many kindnesses that the CNL has received, the Trustees are donating a number of Library’s physical assets to the Abbey.


Since its formation in 1997 the CNL Trust has received significant financial support from the Diocese of Westminster, from the late Sir John Paul Getty, the Theodore Trust, and the Diana Forty Memorial Trust. Benefactions and donations have also been received from many other charitable institutions and private individuals. Without this the Library would not have been able to continue its important work. The full extent of what it has achieved is recorded in A Centennial History of the Catholic National Library (1912-2012) by Gerard Skinner, published by Fisher Press in 2013. The Trustees are also grateful to Mrs Joan Bond who has given stalwart service as Librarian for more than thirty years, and to her husband the Rev Alan Bond, and also to the many volunteers who have worked for the Library over the years.”


As befits its historic importance the Catholic National Library will remain as a discrete collection within the Library of Durham University, maintaining its existing title. It will be an important resource for the Centre for Catholic Studies. Once its catalogue has been integrated with the on-line format of the University Library the collection will be available for study and research both by students at the Centre, and by Durham University students in general. Existing Life members of the CNL will continue to have access to the collection by arrangement with the Durham University Librarian. Members of the CNL, past and present, will also be able to borrow books through the UK Inter-Library Loan scheme.


The CNL has 70,000 volumes of books and over 150 runs of various periodicals. The collection’s range is wide: religious history and biography, theology, spirituality and devotion (much of the latter is of primary importance as little of such material has been collected elsewhere). There is also much material on all aspects of culture inspired by the Catholic Church, as well as a widely admired collection of Catholic fiction. 


As part of the Agreement with Durham University volumes in the collection which are duplicates of those already in the Durham University Library collection are being offered to Stonyhurst College and the new School of the Annunciation at Buckfast Abbey. 


Professor Eamon Duffy, Professor Emeritus of the History of Christianity, Cambridge University said:

"The holdings of the Catholic National Library are genuinely unique, and of national importance. They reach well beyond academic theology and history, to include a rich collection of Catholic fiction, devotion, and popular theology, of a kind rarely found in other collections. "Ephemeral" and "popular" works of this kind have been overlooked or actively excluded from academic libraries, but we are increasingly conscious of their historical, sociological and culture value. They represent an exciting and extremely valuable research resource for the academy, the church and the wider culture, and their assimilation into a great university library will secure their survival and make them available for study as never before.”


Professor Paul D. Murray, Dean-Director of the Centre for Catholic Studies, Durham University said:

"I am delighted that the Catholic National Library has been given a new permanent home within the holdings of Durham University. The CNL collections will be a major asset for researchers working on Catholic theology, history, and culture within the University’s Centre for Catholic Studies. We welcome this further significant collaboration with the Catholic community in service of creating a quite unique space for the study of Catholicism and Catholic tradition within the premier stream of the UK public academy."



Durham University Librarian Mr Jon Purcell said: “This collection will substantially add to research and scholarship within Durham University and further afield. It also has significant potential for inter-disciplinary research and complements the Library collections at both Durham Cathedral and Ushaw College while augmenting the existing theology holdings of Durham University Library. We are proud to be the custodians of this collection.”


All enquiries to: Antony Tyler

Secretary of the Trustees,

Catholic National Library

Telephone: 01732 761830