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History of the library

Reading room

The Seeley is one of the largest libraries in Cambridge; its primary role is to support the History Faculty’s teaching programme by providing students with the resources they require for their studies.  It was first established in 1807 when John Symonds, Regius Professor of Modern History, gathered its nucleus of 1,000 books.

His immediate successor, Professor William Smyth (1807-1849), added many volumes, but thereafter the library appears to have fallen into disuse.

In 1884 Oscar Browning, University Lecturer in History, launched an appeal for a new library to meet the need of undergraduates and a considerable number of additions were made over the next few years. In 1890 the entire collection was transferred from the gallery of the Philosophical Library to a room in King’s College and the following year an annual grant of £30.00 was voted for maintenance.

In 1895 a memorial fund was raised to commemorate Sir John Seeley’s services to the Empire and to the University and the greater part of this fund was devoted to the endowment of the library, which was named after him in 1897.  In 1912 the collection relocated to the top floor of the newly-reopened Arts School, Bene’t Street, then in 1935 to the Old Schools.  In 1968 the Seeley moved to the Sidgwick site as part of the new History Faculty building designed by the internationally-renowned architect, James Stirling.  Its unusual radial design, spanning an L-shaped teaching block, accommodates over 300 reading spaces and houses around 95,000 volumes.