The library provision at St John’s College began in 1555, the year of the College’s foundation, with about 150 volumes, mostly manuscripts. In subject matter, these were mainly theological, philosophical and legal books together with texts by classical authors given by John White of Southwick (who may have been the brother or cousin of the College founder, Sir Thomas White) and other friends of the Founder. Many important donations followed, including those of William Laud and William Paddy in the 17th century.
Today, St John’s College’s special collections include around 200 medieval manuscripts, around 20,000 volumes printed before 1850, several Oriental manuscripts, over 200 modern manuscripts, and important collections of personal papers and books owned by Robert Graves, A.E. Housman, and Spike Milligan, and others.
The College has started a large-scale digitization programme that combines metadata and digitization work. The first regular new contributions to Digital Bodleian are expected in 2022/23.