Chemistry Branch Library – a brief history

The Chemistry Branch Library is on level 5 of the Joseph Black building on the main university campus. It holds the University Library’s collection of chemistry books and journals.

In 1936 plans for a dedicated Chemistry building were approved by the University and the design for the building was drawn up by
T Harold Hughes and DSR Waugh. By 1939 only two of the three wings were completed when construction stopped due to the outbreak of war. In 1948 work began on the third and final wing of the building, but it wasn’t completed until 1954 as disused mine workings were discovered.

Included in this new Chemistry building was a dedicated library – the Chemistry Branch Library, which would hold the University Library’s collection of chemistry books and journals, just as it still does to this day.

Chemistry 1954

Chemistry Branch Library in 1954 – taken from a selection of Joseph Black Building Then & Now photos from the School of Chemistry, History of Chemistry buildings webpage


Chemistry today

Chemistry Branch Library today

In the 1980’s the Chemistry building was extensively refurbished and in 1982, thanks to a bequest from the estate of George Lean, a reading room extension was added to the Chemistry Branch Library.


Chemistry George Lean Reading Room

George Lean Reading Room

In 1997 the Chemistry building was renamed the Joseph Black building after the Scottish chemist Joseph Black (1728-1799), who discovered carbon dioxide; made important observations about heat and temperature; and discovering latent heat. Chemistry Joseph Black

Black was a lecturer in Chemistry at the University from 1756 to 1766; Regius Professor of Anatomy and Botany 1756, and Regius Professor of Practice of Medicine from 1757 to 1766. He also served as Clerk of Senate from 1762 until 1766. During his time at the University Black met a gifted instrument maker James Watt, of steam engine fame, who produced model engines for Black to use in his lectures on the properties of heat, and who remained a life-long friend.

In 1766 Black moved to Edinburgh to become Professor of Chemistry at Edinburgh University. Throughout his career he was widely respected as both a scientist and physician. He died in 1799 and the chemistry building at Edinburgh University is also named after him.


  1. Simpson, A.D.C. (1982) Joseph Black 1728-1799: a commemorative symposium (Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh, 1982)
  2. Cochrane, T. (1966) Notes from Doctor Black’s lectures on Chemistry 1767/8 (ed. D.McKie; ICI Ltd. Pharmaceuticals Division, Cheshire, 1966)
  3. School of Chemistry, History of Chemistry buildings
  4. The University of Glasgow Story, Joseph Black
  5. Scottish Science Hall of Fame Joseph Black Biography


Categories: Library

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