Welcome to the Virtual Library System

Relaunched September 2013 with the addition of Northern Congregational College.

The Virtual Library System is a union catalogue which represents the holdings and loans of selected dissenting academies in England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

It has been compiled from a range of sources, including historic catalogues, shelf lists, loan registers, and surviving books from the academy libraries. Each record in the system describes a single edition of a given work and consists of three parts: bibliographic data harvested from modern library catalogues; information about the copies held in different academy libraries; and, where available, evidence of borrowing.

The Virtual Library System (VLS) works in much the same way as a modern online university library catalogue, but with important additional features. It can be used to:

  • search for particular titles and authors;
  • browse, search, and sort students’ and tutors’ loan records;
  • compare the holdings of different academy libraries;
  • browse the shelves of an academy library;
  • view images of the manuscript sources used to construct the system;
  • view images of title pages, provenance details, and inscriptions in selected books;
  • browse the dropdown menu of former owners of books in academy libraries.

The Virtual Library System is part of Dissenting Academies Online. Click here to find out more about the dissenting academies and this comprehensive resource.

Starting points:

  • To find out more about the reading habits of individual borrowers, click on Browse borrowers. Explore the borrowing records of tutors, such as the Baptist Frederick W. Gotch, ministerial students, including Robert Cotton Mather (later a Congregational missionary), and their lay counterparts, such as William Rayner Wood (who became a prominent Unitarian businessman).
  • Use the quick search box to search for authors and titles. The VLS contains over a thousand works relating to the Bible, several hundred sermons, and numerous works by dissenting educators such as Isaac Watts, Philip Doddridge, Joseph Priestley, and John Pye Smith. It also includes works by some of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries’ most important thinkers, such as Adam Smith, David Hume, and Jeremy Bentham.
  • The most frequently borrowed books include periodicals, theological textbooks, and historical works. Click on the links to see lists of the most popular titles at Manchester College, Homerton Academy, or Bristol Baptist Academy.
  • Click Former owners search to discover the people or institutions that previously owned books found in the Northern Congregational College collection now held at The John Rylands Library, The University of Manchester. Navigate the dropdown menu to browse the list of either institutional or private former owners of the 2,500 books in the NCC collection. Select an owner, such as John Clunie, who donated 770 books to the Lancashire Independent College in 1843.

Academy library books held at Harris Manchester College, Oxford.