About the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library


The John Rylands Library in Manchester, England was conceived by Mrs Enriqueta Rylands as a memorial to her late husband John Rylands, a textile merchant and manufacturer. After several years in construction, it opened to the public in 1900. Appointed as Librarian, after a period as Joint Librarian, was Henry Guppy. Among his other achievements, he founded a journal which has continued until the present day: the Bulletin, which he edited until his death, while still in post as  Librarian,  in 1948. His introduction to the first issue, Vol.1 No.1 dated April - June 1903, included what in modern parlance might be called a 'mission statement':

The primary purpose of this bulletin is to record the titles of works acquired for the library during the quarter preceding the date of each issue, in order that students, not only in Manchester, but also in other and distant parts of the world, may be kept informed of the growth of its collections. In short, it will be made a vehicle for conveying information respecting the library, its progress, and even its wants. But there are other and more ambitious designs that we have in view, and it may be well in this our first number to state that we shall hope from time to time to deal with much that concerns bibliography. When we speak of bibliography, we use the term in its broadest sense, as the science of books considered under all aspects. This will include occasional lists of works on specific subjects, in the nature of reading-lists, bibliographical and historical notes on any specially noteworthy additions, and articles on the special collections and famous books in which the library is so rich, with the object of extending the usefulness of the library and of making its resources better known.

The early issues had the title Quarterly Bulletin of the John Rylands Library but  only six issues had appeared by 1908 when publication ceased, following the death of Mrs Rylands. These six comprise Volume 1, for which a title page and frontispiece were issued for binding purposes. Vol.2 No.1, which appeared in 1914, has an explanation written by Guppy: '... by reason of the exigencies of other work it was found necessary to suspend publication until some of the more urgent claims of the Library had been relieved.' Among those pressures was the need to build an extension to the building, including somewhere for the staff to work.  A list of staff in Vol.2 has, in addition to Guppy and Sub-Librarian Guthrie Vine:  Chief Assistant Librarian Julian Peacock, Assistant Librarians Arthur W. Kiddle, Frank H. Nuttall, Bernard Tennant, Oliver J Sutton. Senior assistants Cuthbert Peach, M.H. Hunter. Junior Assistants E. Allan Maltby, Horace Crossley. Assistant Secretary James Jones. The name Bernard Tennant is of interest: his father Stephen J. Tennant (1843-1914),  was Mrs Rylands' brother, a member of the Library's board of Governors, and a director of the Rylands and Sons textile firm.

The introduction to Volume 2 also states that 'the format has been changed from the quarto of the original volume to the handier octavo size of the present issue, while changes in the arrangement of the contents have been decided upon, with the object of increasing its usefulness.' Quarterly issues were still intended, although the title was simply Bulletin of the John Rylands Library with 'Manchester' below the title in smaller type. However, Volume 2 was the only one to have four actual issues; later some pairs of issues were combined as one, and by Volume 8 (1924) publication had settled into a pattern of two issues per year, which was maintained for many years. At first, issues were dated January and July; but following a special volume 25 (1941) dedicated to Henry Guppy,  volumes spanned the year end, with issue 1 in the autumn and issue 2 the following spring. The Bulletin had become a multi-disciplinary academic journal, with contributions from Library staff, and academic staff of the University of Manchester, as well as researchers from around the world. Some authors, such as H.B. Charlton, of the English Department at Manchester, and F.F. Bruce of the Theology Department, contributed to almost every issue in their time.

After Guppy's death in 1948, his replacement as Librarian, Edward Robertson, took over as editor, although not named as such until Vol. 41 (1958-59).  Robertson had served from 1934 as Professor of Semitic Studies at the University of Manchester until retirement in 1945. In 1949 he was offered and accepted the position of Librarian. He held the post until 1960 when he was appointed as Director to relieve him of administrative duties; those passed to Ronald Hall who was given the title of Acting Librarian. Robertson retired, aged 86, in 1963 and moved to Canada where he died not long afterwards.

Ronald Hall (1900-1975), who  joined the Library in 1915 as an assistant on leaving Manchester Grammar School, was the next Librarian. In 1927 he was promoted to Assistant Librarian, and became Keeper of Printed Books in 1949. In October 1963, he was confirmed as Librarian, and remained in post until his retirement in 1970 after 55 years on the Library staff.

Ronald Hall was succeeded as Librarian on 1 November 1970 by the Keeper of Manuscripts, Dr. Frank Taylor, who had joined the Library staff in 1935 as Keeper of Western Manuscripts, a position he held until 1949, in which year he became Keeper of Manuscripts, a post which he retained after becoming Librarian.

By 1970 The Library was running seriously short of funds, despite a financial contribution from the University. In 1969 negotiations had begun with the University of Manchester regarding a possible takeover of the Library, to be managed by the University Library. The University Librarian of the time, Fred Ratcliffe, had an expansionist policy, and an ambition to create a copyright library in Manchester for the north of England, and in 1972 the John Rylands University Library of Manchester was formed by the merger of the two libraries. The John Rylands Library building became officially known as the Deansgate Building, and its staff were incorporated into the University Library's establishment and salary scales, some of them being transferred to new roles based in the Main Library building on the University campus on Oxford Road. 

Frank Taylor became Deputy Director of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, whilst remaining at Deansgate as Principal Keeper. The change is explained in the 'Notes and News' section of Volume 55(1). Taylor continued to edit the Bulletin, which changed title to Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, beginning with Volume 55 (1972-73), and he remained as Editor after retirement from his full-time post in 1977, until he resigned as Editor in September 1987. Vol.56 is the first to name him as Editor, although in vol. 70 (1988) it is stated 'This is the first issue of the Bulletin for nearly forty years not to have appeared under the guiding hand of Dr Frank Taylor' which suggests that he had been involved in the editing work since the death of Guppy in 1948.

An interesting feature of Volumes  56 to 63 is the the inclusion in the Bulletin of the 'Librarian's Annual Report', which is a useful record of events across the whole John Rylands University Library. After Fred Ratcliffe was replaced as Librarian by Dr Michael Pegg in 1981, however, the practice ceased.

Dr Ratcliffe had an interest in typography, and planned to introduce the typeface 'Optima' into all signs and publications; this eventually reached the Bulletin, which for many years had been printed in a distinctive typeface, in Vol.63. After just two volumes, Pegg authorised its replacement with a more standard serif style.  An unexplained oddity from this period is that the page numbers in Vol. 67 continue from those in Vol. 66, reverting to 1 at the start of Vol.68.

What happened after Taylor's resignation is explained in a Preface by Michael Pegg, in Volume 70 (1988):
It is entirely symptomatic of Dr Taylor's personal energy and catholicity of interest that no one individual will succeed him as Editor of the Bulletin. Rather the Bulletin will become the responsibility of an Editorial Board drawn, in the first instance, from the senior academic staff of the University of Manchester and chaired by Dr C.D. Field, the Library's Head of Publications and Promotion.
The new régime introduced a new publication strategy, under which there were to be three issues per volume:
In future the Spring issues of the Bulletin will contain a miscellany of academic articles from a variety of sources including prestigious lectures delivered within the Library or more generally within the University of Manchester. The Summer issues will focus exclusively upon the resources of the Library ... The Autumn issues will be given over to articles on a discrete, usually interdisciplinary, theme and will mostly have an expert guest editor.
Other innovations included a glossy blue-green cover, a return to volumes coinciding with the calendar year, and pagination within each issue rather than across the volume. (Unfortunately some authors when citing Bulletin papers have not noticed this change, and omitted the issue number from their references.) A casualty was the traditional 'Notes and News' item which had begin every issue since Vol.2; a newsletter was published separately, later entitled News from the Rylands, but copies are not available in digital form at present.

Clive Field left Manchester for The University of Birmingham in 1990, to be succeeded by Dorothy Clayton as General Editor; publication of the Bulletin continued unchanged until Vol.86 (2004) although some years issues 2 and 3 were combined. From Vol. 87 there has been a return to just two issues per year, one general and one dedicated to a theme. Clive Field went on to a senior post at the British Library. After early retirement in 2006, he made a return to the Bulletin in an advisory capacity as chair of the Editorial Board.

In the new century, plain covers have given way to individually-designed pictorial ones, and more pictures than before, some in colour, are included in some issues. A digitisation programme has been undertaken by the Library, in which the Bulletin has been included, from Vol.1 up to Vol. 80 (1998). Later issues have not been made available online, presumably to avoid loss of revenue from sales; I have included contents lists of these volumes on this site for completeness. Note that the actual date of publication of issues may in some cases be somewhat later than the year allocated to that volume number.

In 2013 it was announced that from 2014 the publication of the Bulletin would transfer from the Library to the Manchester University Press, and it would be available as an e-journal. Vol. 89, No.2, was the final issue produced by the Library-based team.

The Manchester University Press website details the continuing series, which will not be recorded here,

On a personal note: I joined the staff of the University Library in 1971 and worked there until retirement in 2007, and I am proud to say that I have known the people involved with the Bulletin, from Frank Taylor onwards, as well as many of the authors, and I'd like to pay tribute to all of them. I was especially proud to be allowed to include an essay of my own, on John Cassidy, in what turned out to the penulmitimate Library-published issue. - Charlie Hulme, July 2013.