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History of the Library

There has been a library at Exeter since the earliest days of the college, from straw-roofed rooms in the 1300s, to a 17th century library in the former chapel, to a dainty ‘greenhouse’ of a building in 1778.

The present College Library was built in Gothic-Revival style in 1857 by George Gilbert Scott. During the 2022/23 academic year it was extensively restored and refurbished, transforming the Library to meet the needs of modern students and academics while preserving and enhancing its original beauty. The Library reopened in Michaelmas Term 2023. The Library is now fully accessible, with step-free access, a lift and a wheelchair-accessible toilet. Lighting, heating, ventilation and environmental performance have been significantly improved. There are now electric plug sockets at every desk, and some desks can be raised or lowered electronically to meet different needs and modes of studying. The number of reader spaces has been increased, original architectural features have been restored, as have the original oak bookcases, and stonework and woodwork cleaned and restored. The result is a stunning and practical learning space that all of Exeter’s students and academics can enjoy using.

Exeter College Library exterior

Scott’s library has been called:

‘a masterly composition, taut with fenestration and carved detail. The blind arcade on the upper floor articulates a blank wall (where inside there are purpose-designed bookcases) and the clerestory of quatrefoil windows, each set into its own gable, admits diffuse light to the upper reading room. This a clever, complex design’

Hannah Parham. Exeter College: the first 700 years. London, 2013. p. 45


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