Access, restrictions and readership in early modern parish libraries

Jessica Grace Purdy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article explores the collections and accessibility of parish libraries in early modern England and the subjects in which their readers were most interested. The period covered begins with the 1558 accession of Elizabeth I, which preceded by only a few years the establishment of the first post-Reformation parish library, and ends with the Parochial Libraries Act of 1709, which ensured that libraries could not be dismantled and dispersed without permission from the appropriate authorities. This article argues that parish libraries were established in this period to provide people of gentry rank and below with a religious education and that, despite previous historians’ arguments to the contrary, the works in these collections were appropriate to the intended audience. It further contends that despite physical access restrictions imposed on these libraries by their founders, their books were read and that readers’ interests focussed on four themes that were central to early modern Protestantism.
Original languageEnglish
JournalLibrary & Information History
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 22 Apr 2024


  • Parish libraries
  • Accessiblity
  • Readership
  • Marginalia
  • HIstory of libraries
  • Religious education


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