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Setting up the King's books

His royal favour

The King’s books, as the collection immediately became known, arrived in the Old Schools within weeks of George I’s command in September 1715. More than double the existing number of volumes in the Library, they were a physical embodiment of the concept of an embarrassment of riches. New cases were commissioned for the printed books, and constructed at considerable expense by John Austin in the School of Law, in what became known as the West Room, by 1720, while manuscripts went into the newly-constructed Dome Room. Plans were quickly put together to transform the old Regent House, on the first floor of the northern range, into a library, necessitating further plans for the construction of a new Senate House.

By 1729 the books were still ‘in heaps’ despite several attempts to catalogue and shelve them; there was simply not the space to organise 30,000 volumes. It took several decades to finalise their arrangement. When the historic University Library overflowed even its many extensions at the Old Schools and moved to the current site in 1934, the Royal Library’s custom-made cases were moved as well. Most of the printed books remained on open access for browsing until the 1950s.