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Save John Stuart Mill's personal library!

A project by: Somerville Spark


WE RAISED £13,641

from 83 donors

This project received pledges on Tue 07 Jul 2015
Help conserve John Stuart Mill's personal library and stop Somerville's treasure from disintegrating

What exactly is The John Stuart Mill Library?

Somerville is home to the Library of the great Victorian liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill: an extraordinary collection of about 2,000 volumes, many of which record irreplaceable annotations that are currently a hidden treasure largely unknown to academics. The collection was a gift to the College in 1905 by Mill's stepdaughter Helen Taylor, as Mill had asked the scientist Mary Somerville to be the first signatory on his petition to Parliament regarding women's suffrage in 1867.  J.S. Mill holds a very important place in world history, and is considered by many to be 'the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century.'


Much of the Library was formed by J. S. Mill’s father James Mill, the economist and political philosopher, and it covers a broad range of topics from poetry and the classics to economics and political thought.  Notable among the volumes are Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, inscribed by the author to J.S. Mill, and an inscribed copy of Darwin’s The Descent of Man.  Annotations by both J.S. Mill and his father pepper many of the books, including Voltaire’s Oeuvres , Smith’s Wealth of Nations, and Emerson’s Essays, and offer valuable insight into their thoughts and analysis of the texts.  

What needs saving and why?

The Library is in desperate need of conservation.  Easily identifiable on the shelves by loops of ribbon which both warn visitors of their condition and help secure weakened bindings, about 130 volumes are in a state of serious decay and require restoration.  The priceless Tocqueville volumes, for example, have begun to fall apart, as have the Essays of Emerson.  We are also very concerned that many of the annotations, typically written in pencil, are very faint and they are at risk of further deterioration without conservation. We have enlisted the Bodleian's guidance and professional advice and with the support of Somerville students, alumni and Mill's admirers around the world, we hope to preserve this unique Library for future generations. 

The costs of restoration and preservation will be substantial; they are currently estimated at approximately £50k. Our priority for this project is the conservation of some of the most delicate volumes, which we can address with £10,000 and your help!  A very generous benefactor has offered to match every gift pound for pound up to £5,000, so any donations to our cause will double in value.  Alongside our conservation efforts, we are also planning a larger project that will include some digitisation of the annotations to preserve them for further research.  If you have any questions about the overall project, or would like more information, please do get in touch.  

Who are we?

We are a team comprised of an undergraduate historian (Oliver Johnston-Watt), a graduate student researching sustainable development at Somerville (Shriman Narayan), our excellent Somerville Librarian (Anne Manuel) and the College's resident Mill expert (Frank Prochaska).  We share a passion for J.S. Mill's writings and Somerville's treasure, and with your help we want to halt the decay of this priceless Library.

Help us succeed!

We hope you will join us and make a gift.  Please also help us spread the word by sharing this project with anyone who will think it's a great idea.  Let's bring our hidden treasure out into the spotlight and give everyone a chance to learn more about it and offer help and support.  

If you would like to make a gift, but are unable to do so via PayPal, you can visit Somerville's online giving page on our website. You will then need to select the 'Annual Fund' and note that your kind gift is to be designated towards the Mill Library project. Alternatively, we are able to take credit and debit card payments over the phone on 01865 280626. 

1 year, 2 months ago

Following on from our previous update, we are delighted to announce the launch of the Friends of the John Stuart Mill Library Society, which will allow Mill enthusiasts to keep in touch with progress, not only on the preservation and digitisation of the collection but also on latest research being carried out on the collection.

To find out more about information about the society and how to become a member, please do visit the Somerville website where you will be able to download the ‘Friends’ brochure and a membership form. If you are resident of the US, please do contact the Librarian, Dr Anne Manuel,  at anne.manuel@some.ox.ac.uk for details on how to subscribe.  

To formally launch this exciting society, we will be hosting the first of our annual lectures at Somerville. The event will be held at College on May 20th with guest speakers Alan Ryan and Frank Prochaska.  To register for the event, please do visit our event page for more details.’

1 year, 2 months ago

 Thanks to your tremendous support, the John Stuart Mill Library has gone from strength to strength and we are delighted to have several pieces of good news for you!

  • The Oxford Conservation Consortium has completed its survey of the volumes in the collection in order to prioritise volumes for treatment.  The report is expected this week and we plan to start work on repairs and boxing during the Spring 2016.

  • We have been successful in obtaining a grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation to examine every volume in the library, looking for and recording  marginalia in preparation for a digitisation project.  This survey is due to start in May/June 2016

  • We are launching a Friends of the John Stuart Mill Library group to allow Mill enthusiasts to keep in touch with progress, not only on the preservation and digitisation of the collection but also on latest research being carried out on the collection. An annual lecture will be held at Somerville to which Friends will be invited and a newsletter will be published with latest developments on the project. The launch event will be held at Somerville on May 20th with guest speakers Alan Ryan and Frank Prochaska.  Watch out for your personal invitation coming soon! 

  • To keep up to date with all our of our John Stuart Mill news, you can ‘like’ our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jsmlibrarysomerville and you can also visit the College website page at www.some.ox.ac.uk/library-it/special-collections which contains more information about this special collection.


1 year, 12 months ago

Thanks to your amazing and generous support, we are so excited to announce that we have reached 90% of our goal!!   We are extremely grateful to you for helping us kickstart the much needed conservation of the Mill Library, and thank you so much for sharing our campaign with your friends and colleagues.  

With the overall project costs estimated at £50k, and still 12 days left in the campaign, and such a wonderful outpouring of support, we are increasing the end goal to £13,000 with the hope that this important cause will reach as many people as possible.  

The minimum will remain £10k, ensuring that all of the hard work already achieved will allow us to begin the conservation (if we successfully cross that mark).  But a new goal will let us aim a bit higher, and with further help from our generous matched donor, the total estimated £20k conservation cost could be reached!  Any additional funds will go towards our aim to digitise and preserve the valuable marginalia.  

Once again, THANK YOU.  We simply could not have come this far without your extraordinary help. Will you help us do all we can to keep getting the word out, so that anyone who wants to can be a part of it?  

ChristopherKenyon matchfunded £5000

Duncan Johnston-Watt

generated 134 clicks and donated

Martin Poulter

generated 107 clicks and donated £20.00

Gerard Gregory

generated 3 clicks and donated


donated £500.00

Marcus Ferrar

donated £100.00

Dale Miller

donated £100.00


donated £50.00


donated £50.00

Mary Fallon

donated £50.00

Brian Wilson

donated £50.00


donated £50.00

Sarah Conly

donated £30.00

Karen Cull

donated £25.00

Lorna Sutton

donated £10.00

Lesley Brown


Valerie Mendes


Penny McCarthy


Giancarlo de Vivo


Richard Hitchman


Karen&Eric Caines


James Adams


Jane Wreford


Frances Walsh


Linda Hart




Jason Chen


Dr C. D. Preston


James Second


Julia Dias


Pauline Adams


Margaret Lee


Heather Jackson


Hans Hansen


Pamila Neville


Eldon Eisenach



followed this project

Jonathan May

followed this project

Alex Armlovich

followed this project


signed up to help

Christine Williams

signed up to help

11 anonymous donations totalling £422.00

Only project creators and their sponsors can post comments.

Saw this mentioned on the Victoria listserve, fyi. Thanks for giving us an opportunity to support this project.

I am very confused about how to pay for my donation. I tried to do so electronically but am not familiar with PayPal. I set up a PayPal account to pay but it seems to need an online banking number which I do not have. Is there an easy way to do this, please? I have spent an hour on this so far. I called PayPal and they don't understand how I am supposed to do to pay for this either! Sue Dawes

I suspect I was admitted to Somerville because of an answer I gave in the general paper of the admissions exam on John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty", which I had read at an impressionable age, so this caught my imagination. I should love to see the library.