Abertay Library over the years

Abertay's library facilities have changed significantly over the years. Exclusive to Communitay subscribers, this page gives you an idea of just how much - and hopefully a trip down memory lane for some!

Abertay's Library

Any alumni who graduated after 1998 will, no doubt, be very familiar with the Abertay library as it stands now, named and opened as The Bernard King Library in 1998.

Previous to this, the library was situated on the 3rd level of the Kydd Building on Bell Street, with the very first library located in Small’s Wynd. Both libraries are very different in appearance with the move to a new, purpose-built library fuelled by an ever increasing student population and the vison for a University for a digital age.

Exterior of Abertay Universities Bernard King Library

Old library

Located on level 3 of the Kydd Building, the 1950 sq. m library was originally designed to house fewer than 2,000 students plus staff. By 1994, however, the buildings had to cope with a student population of more than 4,000.

Although not purpose-built, it was integral to the Kydd Building on the Bell Street campus.

The pressure on space was especially critical in the library where more and more students looked to find a quiet place to study and work, and where additional texts, journals and computer-base information sources needed to be housed.

The vision

The vision of the new library was very clear – it was to be a building which should draw users in and welcome them. There should be an intimate feeling of the building ‘wrapping round’ you, giving a feeling of warmth. Internally, the feeling should be of fluidity, avoiding harshness, especially in the line and lighting. Externally it should be striking, but not austere.

It should also be designed to reflect the diversity of function, be exciting to use, with a certain ‘buzz’. However, also reflect its importance in the academic process – indeed, it would be the academic and cultural heart of the campus. Lastly, it should be cultured, dignified and create a composed, scholarly environment.

Abertay University Library Architects Drawing 1997

The site

The site had previously been a burial ground, built on an area of ground that had been part of the New Howff (a municipal cemetery). Much of it had been cleared in the late 1960s / early 70s to make way for the car park behind the library. The site was then changed to a raised, landscaped area with grass, mature trees and pedestrian routes to Bell Street multi-storey car park to the north of the site and was bought by the university in 1994, the same year the design brief was prepared.

The build

A bid for funding was made to SHEFC for financial assistance to build a new library and £3.76 million was promised on condition that the university provided a similar amount.

In April 1995, architects the Parr Partnership of Dundee, were appointed to design the new library. Their design combined tradition with modernity in a building which had, as its main feature as seen from the street, a large curved glass ‘energy wall’ that allowed users to enjoy the benefit of a light and airy environment without the excess heat usually associated with glass-fronted buildings.

As part of the build, on the 10th October 1996 The Principal, Professor King and Sir Jack Shaw, Chairman of SHEFC, buried a time capsule in the foundation of the new library.

Construction took just over the contracted period of 72 weeks agreed with builders Miller Construction Ltd and the library opened for business in February 1998 at a final cost, including equipment, of just over £8 million.

The end result

The library provided over 5,000 sq.m space giving a min of 1.25 sq.m per FTE student based on 1994/95 projections (6,000) and provision of approximately 660 study spaces in a variety of forms. The build included a number of specialised facilities - networked computer areas, seminar rooms, a short loans collection, a law collection, an audio-visual / multi-media resource area, a self-access language learning centre and a mix of office and open space for staff.

  • The new building won several design awards in 1998, including:
  • The Scottish Design Award for ‘Best new building in Scotland’
  • The 1998 Silver Jubilee Prize from the Dundee Civic Trust
  • The Sir Robert Grieve commendation for sustainability in recognition of its energy efficient design

However, one of the new library’s greatest achievement was the considerable growth in its use. Surveys suggest that, within a few weeks, usage had doubled compared to the old library.

The opening ceremony

The new library was officially opened by the late Queen Elizabeth II on the 30 June 1998, accompanied by the late Duke of Edinburgh (who had previously visited the institution – exactly nine years to the day – as part of its hundredth anniversary), and the then Secretary of State for Scotland, the late Rt. Hon. Donald Dewar MP. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh toured the new library, met staff and students, and joined civic guests and local business and community leaders at a luncheon hosted by the University in her honour.

In her speech that day, the Queen praised Abertay as a modern university, noting that the new Library would allow us to pursue innovative teaching and learning methods for the next century – an ethos that the university continues to deliver on.


Richard Irvine’s interview about his memories of waiting on the Queen during the opening

The Queen opens the Bernard King Library

2017 refurbishment

The original Bernard King Library opened in 1998, but the needs of students and staff continued to evolve over the years, as has the use of technology in information resources – in teaching and society more generally. In 2017, work began on a £4 million state-of-the-art upgrade to the library with all four levels of the library upgraded.

The project was a major investment in the education and welfare of students and staff, providing the very latest in interactive technology and support services. It focused on modernising the building interior, introducing a new café and social area, improving its resources and providing a variety of spaces to cater for the changing student experience, one which relies increasingly more on technology and digital resources than traditional book-led studies.

Former Director of Information Services, Michael Turpie said at the time:

The investment Abertay has made to future-proof the Library, and other spaces across campus, highlights the University's commitment to provide the best experience for its students.

Abertay Celebrates Library Refurbishment Completion

Your memories

Now it's over to you!

What are your memories of Abertay's libraries? Were you one of the last students to use the Kydd Building library or one of the first to use the Bernard King library in 1998?

Whether you left Abertay three months, three years or 30 years ago, we'd love to hear your memories or see any photos you may have.

We hope to feature some of your memories in our next edition of Communitay, so please do get in touch.

You can send us an email at alumni@abertay.ac.uk

With thanks to Ruaraidh Wishart, Abertay's archivist, who provided all the information required to create this page and its contents.

The archives team are always very keen to help people to access the collections (including having people visit to do research), and are happy to take material in if you want to donate anything.

The website has lots of information, images, and stories from the archive collections.

You contact the archives department by emailing archives@abertay.ac.uk  or phoning 01382 308120.

Our website has loads of info, images, and stories from the collections. Full details below.

T: 01382 308120

E: Archives@abertay.ac.uk

W: https://www.abertay.ac.uk/about/the-university/archive/

Catalogue: https://archive.abertay.ac.uk/

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