St Jerome: Patron Saint of Librarians

St Jerome: Patron Saint of Librarians

30th September 2015

On the Feast Day of St Jerome (patron saint of librarians) our Library and Archive team decided to look back at the state of the Library in the 19th century.

During recent cataloguing of a bundle of ‘Special Library Correspondence’ in the Cathedral Archives, we discovered a questionnaire completed by the honorary librarian c.1880. The questionnaire covers everything from the type of books and the arrangement of the bookcases, the number of catalogues (‘5 at least’), through to who could use the library and when. Some of the most striking differences between then and now relate to the size of the collections, the facilities provided and the accessibility of the Library:

  • Then, there were only about 6000 books in the library. Now there are more than 20,000.
  • Then, the Library was principally open to the clergy of the Diocese of Exeter on a Friday (for half a day). Now the library is open five days a week, and is available to all who wish to use the collections.
  • Only 17 people took books out of the library in 1877. Although the Cathedral Library is no longer a lending library, the average number of users of the library is 168 per month (including enquiries and visitors).
  • Then, there was one fireplace in the library and no conveniences. There are now ample radiators (and no open fires), and ‘conveniences’ are provided for our readers!

The roles and responsibilities of the librarians at Exeter Cathedral have also changed a lot over the years. These days the job description of the librarian might run to several pages. In the questionnaire, when asked for the duties of the library, the rather succinct answer given is: ‘to take care of the Library’. That much is still true.

Exeter Cathedral's Library and Archive is now housed in a dedicated space in the west wing of the Bishop's Palace.

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