We’ll be closing the Royal Society Library for a few weeks this summer. Read on to discover when and why, but first a bit of historical background…

I was recently preparing a tour for some historians of chemistry, and came across this piece of Library ephemera tucked inside one of our books:



Dated 22 July 1879, it’s a loan recall notice sent out by the Royal Society’s long-serving sub-librarian and Assistant Secretary, Walter White (disappointingly, not a contemporary of Heisenberg). Citing the Statutes concerning the Library, Chap.xiv, Sect.9, White reminds his recipient that ‘the Library will be closed during the month of August’, and requests ‘the prompt return of the Books borrowed by you’.

The recalled items in question are Dalton’s ‘Chemical philosophy’ (part 1 and part 2), the United States Coast Survey of 1872, and the book in which I found White’s notice, ‘Leçons sur la philosophie chimique’ by Jean Baptiste Dumas. My tour group was particularly interested in nineteenth-century organic chemistry, and requested this volume alongside works by Justus von Liebig, elected to the Royal Society with Dumas in 1840 and, according to his Wikipedia entry, the man who made possible the invention of Marmite. Well, I never knew that – my new hero!

I did know a little bit about the borrower of the books, one ‘J N Lockyer Esq.’ Back in the mists of time when I was a physics undergraduate at Exeter University, ownership of the Norman Lockyer Observatory in nearby Sidmouth was transferred from the university to East Devon District Council; it is now run by an amateur astronomical society and open to the public on occasion.

I had Lockyer down as an astronomer, but have reminded myself that he also discovered the element helium via observations of the solar spectrum in 1868, and published ‘The chemistry of the Sun’ in 1887, so two of his Royal Society Library loans make sense in this context. I can’t quite work out the United States Coast Survey, though, unless he was just off to Florida on his summer hols.

Now the practice of closing the Royal Society Library every August has long since been discontinued; however, for one year only, we’re staging a revival. And not just August, either: we will be closed to public readers and tour groups from Friday 19 July to Friday 6 September inclusive. Sadly, this isn’t because we’re off to explore Florida and other coastlines for seven weeks – your archivists and librarians will still be hard at work, shelving and filing behind the scenes and answering phone and email enquiries – but because we’re having a major refurbishment of the public toilets at the Society, leaving potential Library readers with nowhere to, er, go.

So if you’re planning a research visit to the Library, please work around this, and also our standard annual shutdowns for the Summer Science Exhibition and Admission Day for our new Fellows – here’s a full list of our closure dates. I won’t be following the example of Walter White and recalling all our book loans by 19 July, so the long summer grace period might be the time to catch up on your history of science reading – please just bring the books back free of sand and suntan lotion. There’s a Statute about that somewhere, I’ll bet.


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