Library Associations in the 21st century have a central role in the advocacy of librarianship, especially in the ‘digital age’, to show how the profession’s work can benefit society and business. One such example of this was a conference for the International Federation of Library Associations General Conference and Assembly in August 2014 on the theme of ‘Librarians as change agents: finding, using and managing data for social change’.
This is not such a new idea. In the College Old Library we have a copy of John Durie’s (or Dury)(1596-1680), book ‘The Reformed Librarie-Keeper’ of 1650, which extols the value of librarianship beyond simply ‘[looking] at the books committed to their custodie, that they may not bee lost; or embezeled by those that use them.’ (p.16) but librarians ‘..ought to become Agents for the advancement of universal Learning.’
How did Durie suggest librarians should enable learning? In much the same way as now:
‘First a Catalogue, of the Treasurie committed unto his charge is to be made..to bee ranked in order most easie and obvious to be found.’
‘Those that are within the Universitie, [the librarie-keeper] should have acquaintance to know all that are of anie-parts, and how their vein of learning doth lie, to supplie helps unto them in their faculties’
‘The chief Doctors of each facultie of the Universitie should meet at a convenient time in a week of the year, to receiv the Accounts of [the librarie-keeper’s] trading, that he may shew them wherein the stock of learning has been increased.’
During the Commonwealth era, John Durie was the deputy keeper of what was formerly the King’s library at St. James’ Palace. After Charles I fled from London, the library fell into a state of disarray and Durie is credited with the careful reorganisation of the books and manuscripts. However, his main occupation was attempting to foster Protestant unity in Europe by establishing a list of principal Christian doctrines upon which all denominations could either agree, or agree to differ in less fundamental matters. Durie had the skills and experience to promote such ideas. He attended university in Leiden as a consequence of his Presbyterian minister father’s banishment from Scotland under James VI, and travelled widely within Europe, coming into contact with many different factions of the Church.
Durie published separate treatises on religious matters, but his ‘Reformed Librarie -Keeper’ is considered as one of his most interesting and original works. The book is one of the principal earliest works upon the philosophy of librarianship, along with the French librarian Gabriel Naudé’s work ‘Avis pour dresser une bibliotheque’ published in 1627.
If you wish to read more of Dury’s thoughts on librarianship, the full text of the book is available via Project Gutenberg.
By Catherine Sutherland
Deputy Librarian, Pepys Library and Special Collections
Chapter 15 of Oates, J.C.T. Cambridge University Library : a history. , From the beginnings to the Copyright Act of Queen Anne. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1986.
Young, John T. ‘Durie , John (1596–1680)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008.