Books for Everyone?: National Trust Libraries and their Reading Communities in the Long Eighteenth Century

Researching networks of eighteenth-century female readers across National Trust Libraries. 


Project background

The National Trust’s libraries constitute one of the world’s foremost resources for the study of the history of book ownership and use. The collection includes approximately 600,000 books, manuscripts, periodicals and globes across 170+ historic properties in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

This project seeks to investigate one of the country’s greatest – yet under-researched – book collections. The National Trust’s 140 historic libraries contain around 400,000 books. Many books remain in situ in the properties they were originally read. The National Trust’s ongoing cataloguing project has led to details being published online for the first time. This project opens a scholarly discussion surrounding six of the Trust’s eighteenth-century book collections.

Research team

  • Lead Researcher: Amy Solomons, University of Liverpool. 
  • Academic Supervisor: Professor Mark Towsey, History, University of Liverpool.
  • Industry supervisor: Tim Pye, National Curator for books and libraries at the National Trust. 


Research approach

The book collections are used as a case study to discuss female reading practices in the long eighteenth century. The National Trust’s library collections are examples of eighteenth-century collections which encompass books from a wide range of genres, authors, and periods. The methodological approaches within this study combine statistical work, the use of digital databases and material use of books within the collection.

The main output of the PhD will be the collaborative project with National Trust staff to put on an exhibition, produce digital content for the website and to use a pilot education outreach project engaging young people in historic libraries to write a toolkit to be used in other libraries within the National Trust. I will write a journal article based on the research used in the exhibition.


Expected impact

This project aims to provide the National Trust’s property teams with a more in-depth knowledge of their library collections so that they can be used in interpretation and visitor experience. This will be achieved through a physical exhibition at one of the libraries featuring examples of female readers, which will be linked to digital content produced for the Trust which will have a greater legacy and open-up the collections of one library to a broader internal and external audience. Finally, the project will focus on producing a toolkit on how to engage young people in historic house libraries. 

This project builds on a vibrant research portfolio developing around the lead supervisor’s research interests in eighteenth-century book history, reading habits and library culture. It enhances research community at the University of Liverpool’s interdisciplinary Eighteenth-Century Worlds Research Centre, with the Researcher contributing in several significant ways to the Centre’s research culture – including acting as social media manager for the Centre and helping to found the Centre’s PGR and Early Career Researcher Reading Group.