Downside School Libraries

The libraries are a vital part of the academic and cultural life at the School. They seek to provide equal access for all pupils to develop independent study skills, enhance reading for pleasure and provide opportunities to become involved in the running of the libraries.

Some Downside pupils can’t get enough of reading. And not just in the Petre Library. To choose a book, pupils can access the full library catalogue from anywhere, anytime using this link.

LIBRARY HIGHLIGHTS for 2021 – 2022

Michaelmas Matilda – the tradition continues at Downside with an energetic recitation by our youngest pupils of Hilaire Belloc’s classic cautionary tale, Matilda Who Told Lies and Was Burnt to Death. Belloc’s grandfather was a monk at the School and later became its Head Master. This event now marks National Poetry Day in October every year. After their efforts the First Form enjoyed a magnificent tea with the Head and Deputy Head. 

An added bonus for National Poetry Day this year was the visit of performance poet MiKo who inspired our First Form performers and shared tips.  He also gave workshops for Second Form and Third Form pupils and we hope to see the results at a showcase later in the year.

World Book Day this year is all about sharing. Pupils will be encouraged to ask a parent or grandparent for their favourite book from childhood and to swap their top reads. Library Prefects will be spearheading House activities on the day.

Battle of the Books – our inter-House competition with rounds throughout the year to win the Library Cup. Pupils choose a specialist subject from one of the Battle Lists or answer general knowledge questions on children’s literature to win points for their Houses. Sample question: What colour is the horse in Elizabeth Goudge’s classic novel?

Visions of the Gothic, our successful one-day conference for A level English students, returns in February 2022. Speakers will include Joan Passey from the University of Bristol talking about the Cornish Gothic. This follows hard on the heels of a conference to promote the study of the Classics organised with the Bristol Classics Hub. Talks include ‘How to Deal with a Plague Outbreak’ and ‘Experiencing War in the Roman World’. We welcome local schools to these conferences.

School history has been on our agenda this year. We are working with small groups on a Downside Covid Time Capsule and a Downside Archive Roadshow. Photographs from the School’s history line the staircase to the Petre Library, so we set about providing captions for them last year. We have also created Downside School History boards with a chronology of important events. You can now find these along the corridor outside the Petre Library.

Beautiful banners celebrating reading mark the entrance to the Petre Library.  These site-specific textile artworks were produced by pupils on the theme ‘books can take you places’. 

The Petre Library is a centre for independent learning and the teaching of research skills, where a chartered librarian is available to encourage and support pupils as they learn how to use a range of library resources both for study and for leisure. The library team supports the work of the EPQ Co-ordinator and of departments where pupils are required to submit coursework such as History of Art, History and English. Pupils are able to access substantial subject-specific collections for Art, Art History and History as well as the main collection in the Petre Library along with trusted online resources. The librarian offers sessions on conducting research, searching the internet effectively, creating bibliographies, referencing and on critical evaluation of resources. Work in this area begins early in the life of pupils at Downside with research projects in Biology in the First Form; in Latin in the Second Form and English in the Third Form.   

The Petre Library is open every day of the week and additional library sessions are added in the run-up to examinations with regular visits from Flash, the Library Assistant’s well-behaved collie to help alleviate stress. The popularity of the Petre Library during evening prep is testament to the constructive learning environment created by library staff and pupils. 

Study is important but equal value is given to reading for pleasure. Downside regularly welcomes inspirational authors who help to keep pupils motivated. Our next visiting author will be thriller writer Fleur Hitchcock. The Bookbuzz reading initiative for the First and Second Forms brings pupils into contact with the latest authors while the School’s involvement with either the Carnegie Shadowing Scheme, the Centurion Book Awards or the Excelsior Awards means that Third Form pupils are able to develop and demonstrate their critical skills with a shortlist of books that they have help to determine. 

Audio books – find the whole-school recordings of Anne of Green Gables or Treasure Island on the cloud.

The library’s own webpage is where pupils and staff can learn about the latest initiatives with a wealth of information and guidance including links to ebooks and online resources. Click here to access this remotely.


The Petre Library is the principal school library.  It is open each day as follows: 
Monday – Friday 9.00am – 9.00pm
Saturday 9.00am – 12.45pm
Sunday 1.00pm – 5.00pm
During the Summer Term, evening times are extended for later prep and there is an additional Sunday evening session.

To learn more about the academic life of Downside, click here.