Special Collections: The History of Our Collections

Bernardino Genga (1691)
Anatomia per uso et intelligenza del disegno (GSA Library, Special Collections)

Our Early Collections

The very first inventory of the Glasgow School of Art Library is held in Archives and Collections, bound with other inventories in a single volume [GSAA.GOV.7.1]. The volume contains two library inventories, one for a reference library and one for a lending library. Entries are undated, but the first book to be accessioned into the catalogue is still held by the Library and bears a bookplate with an 1847 date of deposit. Each volume was assigned an accession number in the inventory, and these numbers often appear in manuscript towards the front of the physical volumes.

From the late 1840s the School’s annual reports [GSAA.GOV.1] sometimes note the purchase or donation of specific volumes for the library. The reports also note the awarding of prize books to individual students, some of which remain in the library’s collections with their prize certificates. Similarly, donations and purchases are often noted in the Governors’ Minutes [GSAA.GOV.2], which include the minutes of the Library and Materials Sub-Committee.

All relevant information from these sources has now been transcribed up until the 1950s, with information added to catalogue records. Where volumes are no longer held by the libray, records have been added to the library catalogue for digital surrogates where these are available. Much of the material is on art and architecture, but there are also examples of literature, philosophy, and aesthetics. The books that form our foundation collections give a rich insight into the curricula of the day.

Discover More

For an in-depth discussion of our early collections and how they relate to 19th century arts pedagogy, please see:

Chappell, D. (2016) ‘The early history and collections of Glasgow School of Art library 1845–1945’, Library and Information History, vol. 32, no. 3, pp.161-174, Available http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17583489.2016.1186479 (subscription required)

Our Early Librarians

Phyllis Dodd (1951) A Glasgow Bookman – Adam L Gowans Esq (GSA Archives)

1894-1920 James Joseph Francis Xavier King (1855-1933)
King was an accomplished artist who exhibited between 1885 and 1891, particularly at the Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts. In 1891 he had been amongst those who appended their name to the request that the Corporation of Glasgow should purchase Whistler’s Arrangement in Grey and Black (commonly known as Portrait of Thomas Carlyle). He was also an acknowledged expert in neuroptera, the class of flying insects with net-like wings, and published widely on this subject. At GSA, King lectured in the ornament classes, before moving to geometry, perspective and plant form. He also acted as Conservator, and was charged with looking after School property, safe-keeping student work, preparing works for exhibition and inspection by the Masters, and engaging life models. In 1909, with the opening of the School’s first purpose-built library designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, he was employed full-time as Librarian. A 1907 portrait of him by David Forrester Wilson is in the collection of the Hunterian Art Gallery.
1920-1934 Miss Wyper
After King’s retirement, formal responsibility for the library moved to James P. Halcrow, a GSA administrator. It seems however, that much of the running and management of the library was left to a Miss Wyper, of which little else is recorded. We would be fascinated to learn more about her and her time at GSA.
1934-1941 Ian Fleming (1906-1994)
Fleming studied drawing and painting at Glasgow School of Art from 1924 to 1929. He first exhibited at the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts in 1927 and at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1930. In 1931 he was appointed assistant lecturer at Glasgow School of Art, where he taught life drawing, painting, and art history whilst also, from 1934, administering the library. Fleming was subsequently instrumental in establishing a library for Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen during his tenure there as Principal from 1954. A photographic portrait of Fleming resides in GSA Archives.
1944-1951 Adam Luke Gowans (1871-1958)
Following an interregnum of 3 years, Gowans was appointed librarian in 1944. He was an interesting choice, for he was the first librarian to be appointed from outside the School’s ranks. Gowans had graduated with an MA from the University of Glasgow in 1895 before establishing the publishers Gowans & Gray. The firm is best remembered for its small pocket editions in parchment-like wrappers. A number of his publications or donations still reside in GSA Library today. A beautiful portrait of him standing within the Mackintosh Library by Phyllis Dodd was sadly destroyed by fire in 2014, but can still be viewed online.
1951-1954 Basil Chisholm Skinner (1923-1995)
Skinner was appointed librarian in 1951, before becoming Assistant Keeper of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery just 3 years later, at the unprecedented age of 31. Much of the prestige of the gallery today can be traced to Skinner’s innovative work and energetic imagination.