The Good Books

An installation by Sofia Barton and Lady Kitt

Cosin’s Library, Palace Green Library, DH1 3RN
Wednesday 27 July – Sunday 14 August 2022

Celebrating and sharing work made during the artist’s 2020-22 social art residency at Bishop Cosins’ Library. 

Including artwork and stories by:

Steph Robson; The New Brancepeth Revellers; Staff and pupils at: Esh CE Primary School; Hunwick Primary School; The Ribbon Academy; Yohden Primary; Diana Collecott (friend of Ruth First); Debra Sithole (Ruth First Scholar Durham University, 2019-20)

This new installation creates a temporary space in the library for new books which include stories and artwork made by local people the artist’s collaborated with during their residency.

‘We will build an explosive wave of bright pink and orange paper which bursts from an unused bookshelf, carrying our new “good books” down to the heart of the library into a comfy, playful reading nook with cushions, with an invitation for visitors to contribute their own stories.’ (Sofia Barton, Lady Kitt)

Durham University’s Cosin’s Library is one of the earliest public libraries in the North East of England. In the late seventeenth century, libraries for public use were extremely rare in England and only certain types of people were allowed in. When Cosin opened his ‘public’ library on Palace Green, he limited access to members of the clergy, lawyers and other learned gentlemen in the Diocese of Durham. Access to good books was therefore limited to a small group of men.

‘The library was founded as a “public library” with a mission to give local people access to “good books”. Cosin’s library is a public library where the good books it houses are largely authored by (we assume) white, straight, non-disabled, privileged men. Located within one of the oldest and most elite universities in England. Where the only door with step free access isn’t open.’ (Sofia Barton, Lady Kitt)

The Oxford English Dictionary defines public as:

“of or concerning the people as a whole”, “ordinary people in general; the community.” Specifically giving the example “”the library is open to the public”.

Over the last few years, Cosin’s library has been closed for conservation work, reopening earlier this year. In late 2019, the University was awarded funding for a two-year project to open up the library to the wider public by Arts Council England under its Designation Development Fund scheme. Part of this funding included a social art residency with Sofia Barton and Lady Kitt.

‘Cosin’s library has been “open to the public” for over 300 years. But it has not been accessible to us. It has not been of us. It has historically been physically, culturally, intellectually, and conceptually un-public.

So, we thought: How can art help make un-public libraries be more public?

Our answer: Use collaborative creativity to make books which joyfully insert “people in general; the community” into the library. Collaborating with local people to make books and use them to inject under-told stories, access information and a marching jazz band into the library.’ (Sofia Barton, Lady Kitt)

For more information on Sofia Barton and Lady Kitt’s social art residency, go to

Find out more about the Arts Council England funded Cosin’s Library Engagement Project at

Bishop Cosin’s Library is in one of our historic buildings. From the reception area, there are several short staircases to access Bishop Cosin’s Library. Visitors have to descend 11 stairs down, followed by two climbs of 4 or 5 stairs to reach the Library.

Cosin’s Library is not currently wheelchair accessible, however the University is in the process of investigating options to increase access to the library for all users. A portable hearing loop is available.

For conservation purposes, there will be no access to Cosin’s Library for visitors wearing high-heeled shoes

More on access at Palace Green Library and Cosin’s Library