History of the library and archive
The library was founded in Anglo-Saxon times. King Offa of Mercia is known to have given a Bible to the Cathedral in c.780. The library was located in the east cloister during the early middle ages. The manuscripts were kept in the aumbrey (niches), which now display the old cathedral bells. It was moved to the roof space above the south nave aisle in the fourteenth century. In 1670 it was transferred to the Chapter House, where it stayed until the Victorian Restoration of the cathedral in the 1860's. During that time it was temporarily housed in the Edgar Tower. Post-restoration it was returned to the roof space over the south aisle, where it remains until today.
During the reformation and civil war eras, the library and archive was greatly affected. In 1623 the Dean and Chapter received a request from King James I to provide duplicates of any medieval manuscripts for a new library he was furnishing at Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately, it is not known what happened to these books. Manuscripts were also taken by book collectors for their own collections. Canon Dr. William Hopkins (1675-1700) was placed in charge of the library, which was a commendable choice as his enthusiasm in the care of the library was exemplary. He was supported by his fellow members of the Chapter, in particular Dean George Hickes, who gradually built up the collection of books into a very fine library. Succeding librarians ensured the catalogues were kept up to date. Famous visitors included Sir Samuel Pepys in 1687, Dr. Samuel Johnson in 1774 and Sir Edward Elgar.
Documents of the cathedral to be compiled and arranged, are found in the first instance under Bishop Wulfstan (1008-1095). He ordered a sub-prior, called Hemming, to compile a register of charters (cartulary) of the lands of the monastery. This is now in the British Library. Saint Wulfstan was insistent that documents in the monastery chest were properly organized and recorded.
The archives suffered in varying degrees through the centuries, mainly due to neglect. Fortunately, in 1907 Canon J. M. Wilson was appointed librarian and with advice from colleagues at Cambridge University Library arranged the muniments into their present order. Over recent decades the muniments have been re-catalogued by the University of Birmingham's Library and Special Collections department. They also hold printed copies of these catalogues in the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham.