Stephen Copley Research Report: Jacqueline Kennard on Orkney Library and Class Identity, 1800-1842

By Amy Wilcockson

I’ve just returned from the most wonderful week visiting Orkney Library and Archive in Kirkwall, during which I spent valuable time with books and manuscripts essential to my Masters dissertation about the social history of Orkney Library during the Romantic period. I’m immensely grateful for the Stephen Copley Research Award, which contributed to the costs of this trip. It enabled me to immerse myself in the rich history of Orkney and to explore as many resources in the archives as possible, leaving me well-equipped for planning and writing my dissertation this summer.

The Bibliotheck of Kirkwall – the collection of books bequeathed by William Baikie, Stronsay, in 1683, which founded Orkney Library – is known as the oldest public library in Scotland.[1] In 1815, this collection became part of a new subscription library alongside other donations of books by subscribers. Sadly, this iteration of the library is vastly understudied. J. B. Craven’s Descriptive Catalogue of the Bibliotheck of Kirkwall, a source which secondary scholars often look to, neglectfully summarises the library’s early nineteenth-century history in just one sentence: “The old Bibliotheck became afterwards incorporated with the ‘Orkney Library,’ which was instituted 23rd August 1815.”[2] This is despite plentiful surviving …read more