The Itinerating Libraries of East Lothian


One of Brown’s “itinerating libraries.”  

One of the forefathers of the traveling library movement was a Scottish religious scholar and educator named Samuel Brown. After a miraculous recovery from pneumonia in the early 19th century, Brown decided to repay the grace God had shown him. His primary cause would be bringing books to people out of reach of libraries and universities. In 1817 he purchased a collection of 200 books and divided them equally among four rural Scottish villages in the county of East Lothian, (just east of Edinburgh); Aberlady, Salton, Tyninghame, and Garvald. These “itinerating libraries” were to be rotated among the towns every two years. Combined, the four book cases generated 1461 check-outs in their first year alone. Encouraged by this early success, he decided to make the portable libraries his calling.

By 1836 Brown had set up 47 such libraries in East Lothian, for a total of 3850 books. By the time of his death in 1839, no one in the East Lothian was more than a mile and half from a library, astonishing for the early 19th century (this statistic included convicts; the library in Haddington was in a jail). He would spread his cause beyond Scotland. South Africa, Russia, Ireland and the West Indies were other beneficiaries  of his philanthropy.

Sharon G Almquist, ed. “Distributed Learning and Virtual Librarianship.”

Santa Barbara, Calif. : Libraries Unlimited, 2011.


Brown, Samuel.“Some account of Itinerating Libraries and Their Founder.“

W. Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh, 1856.


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