This June, the Department of Special Collections launched Lighting the Past, a project to catalogue the 150,000 books not currently represented in the University Library’s catalogue, SAULCAT, or in larger databases such as COPAC and WorldCAT. While interns spent the summer working on Phase 1 (simplified, but bibliographically identifiable) cataloguing, I began work on the first collection flagged for fully detailed Phase 2 cataloguing: the Copyright Deposit Collection.
In 1710, the Parliament of Great Britain passed, “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by Vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or Purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned,” more commonly called the Statute of Anne. The purpose of the act was to begin government rather than private regulation of copyright, with the upshot (from the University’s perspective, at least) that a copy of each book registered at Stationers’ Hall, and therefore eligible for copyright protection, was to be granted to each of nine major libraries: the Royal Library (now the British Museum Library), Sion College in London, the Library of the Faculty of Advocates at Edinburgh (now the National Library of Scotland), and the universities at Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and St Andrews.
Not surprisingly, publishers were not thrilled at the prospect of giving books away for free and tried various means of circumventing the act, the most common of which was to send only those titles that were specifically requested by each university. Those books that the University of St Andrews requested and received from Stationers’ Hall between 1710 and 1836, when the legislation was repealed, make up the Copyright Deposit Collection.
As of this week, everything in the Copyright Deposit Collection whose classmark begins with ‘G’ (including books on geography, exploration, anthropology, folklore, social customs, and games) has been fully catalogued and can be found in SAULCAT. Below you’ll find some examples of the different types of items found during the cataloguing of this collection.
Most heavily represented in the collection are atlases, gazetteers, and geography textbooks, followed by a large selection of travellers’ narratives. Some of the more popular texts can be found in multiple editions.
Some of the atlases are beautifully decorated with iconic scenes from the cities and countries shown in the maps, and several of them have been coloured in by hand, like this “Comparative View of the Lengths of the Principal Rivers of Scotland”:
In amongst the more academic texts, books for the entertainment and education of young children can also be found, along with manuals for various games and athletic pursuits.
Sometimes, the book itself is not as interesting as the markings that St Andrews students left in the margins or on the endpapers.
We hope that by putting these records up online, more researchers will find and use this rich collection. Though we’ve only completed a small subset of the Copyright Deposit Collection so far, we will continue to chip away at it in the months to come.
Rare Books Cataloguer