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19th Century

The Library had its beginning at the foundation of the University in the late 1840s. James Hardiman (1782-1855), a noted historian and antiquarian, was appointed to the post of librarian by the first President of the University, Reverend Joseph W. Kirwan.

In his report to the Lord Lieutenant as President of the College, Fr. Kirwan throws some light on the circumstances surrounding the early beginnings of this centre of learning. He mentions that “the examination hall and the rooms allotted to the Library are handsome and extensive”. In addition, he indicates that a sum of £3000 had been allocated to provide for “libraries, apparatus etc.” and £1500 of this had been spent on books.

James Hardiman

Image of James Hardiman

“We have endeavored, as far as the limited sum permitted, to provide the Library with those works most essentially necessary in the different branches of learning. Many departments are still not adequately provided for.”

At Christmas 1849, his friend, the antiquarian John O’Donovan (1809-1861), asked Hardiman in a letter whether he had “procured any books for the ‘godless’ library?” This was a reference to the fact that the country’s Catholic bishops had frowned upon the establishment of the Queen’s colleges as “godless colleges”!

From the President’s reports over the next few years, it would seem that Hardiman had plenty of difficulties to contend with as Librarian. The college’s buildings were not being completed and funds were insufficient for the purchase of necessary equipment and materials. Things seemed to improve somewhat after Hardiman’s death in 1855: the 1856 report of Dr. Edward Berwick, who had succeeded Kirwan as President, specifically mentions the library and its improved state, and the “stillness and order which prevail showing that the readers are evidently bent upon the acquisition of knowledge!”

Valentine Steinberger

Image of Valentine Steinberger

Hardiman was succeeded as Librarian by John Richardson, who produced the first printed catalogue of the collections in 1864. It is a 288-page work arranged alphabetically by author, with entries noting title, size, place and date of publication, and shelf number. The library contained something in the region of 6500 titles then.

The first catalogue arranged broadly by subject, entitled A series of alphabetical catalogues of books contained in the Library of Queen’s College, Galway arranged according to Departments, was produced by Richardson’s successor, D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1829-1902) in 1877, and dealt with twenty-five departments and two reference collections.

The final printed catalogue of the library’s collections was produced in 1913 by Valentine Steinberger, Librarian and Professor of German from 1902. Steinberger’s is by far the most extensive catalogue and contains a detailed prefatory note on his methodology. Titles are arranged under seventeen subject areas, with additional sections entitled Reference Library and Journals.

Steinberger followed the example of his predecessors in arranging the books by author, though he gives greater prominence to the shelf number. This is probably because the catalogue provided details of c. 18,000 titles in regular stock as well as upwards of another 1000 reference titles. The subject areas in each of these catalogues are broadly similar and covered the main areas of teaching and scholarly research in the university at the time. These included Anatomy, Architecture and Engineering, Botany, Celtic Studies, Chemistry, Classics, English Literature, Ethics and Divinity, Geology, Law, Jurisprudence and Political Science, Logic and Metaphysics, Medicine and its branches, Modern History, Modern Languages, Philology, Physics, Political Economy, Obstetrics, Surgery and Zoology.


20th Century

The Library continued to be augmented throughout the 20th century, though the emphasis on subject areas has ebbed and flowed over time. Agriculture, for example, which had been prominent in the early years, waned as the 20th century progressed. Some disciplines came and went. Dentistry, for instance, was taught between the 1940s and 1970s, but is not well represented in the collections now. Acquisition was, as now, frequently influenced by economic factors. Peaks and troughs are evident in materials represented in the collections, especially in the mid-20th century.

Today, we maintain the collections which have grown since our 19th century beginnings, as well as a representative collection of materials acquired for both teaching and research in the 20th century to the present day. We are also committed to collecting printed materials into the future, as outlined in the Library’s Collections Policy.