New College Library was founded upon donations, including many rare books from libraries, churches and individuals across Europe. The Library also grew by amalgamation, incorporating, for example, the Library of the United Presbyterian Church in 1900 and the Library of the General Assembly in 1958.
New College Library’s rare book collections reflect its heritage as a centre of learning for Presbyterian ministry. Treasures from the Reformation include the first edition of John Calvin’s 'Institutes of the Christian Religion', the progenitor of all subsequent Presbyterian doctrinal treatises, published in 1536, and the 1637 'Book of Common Prayer' with which Charles I attempted a unification of worship, which was driven out after the triumph of the Covenanters in 1638. Early Bibles in Latin, Greek and Hebrew as well as English form a rich seam throughout the collections, which also includes more modern Bibles in languages from throughout the globe. However the rare book collections also demonstrate more catholic interests, including over a hundred incunabula, and a complete set of the Acta Sanctorum, sixty-eight volumes of the lives of saints, begun in 1643. Publications from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries bear witness to the development of religious life and culture in Scotland and the Scottish diaspora, and to the impact of missionary work worldwide.
Significant items and collections include: