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 2020 – 2021

2 Million Words for World Book Day – this year we challenged our whole community to get reading and to raise money for books. Pupils, staff, parents, governors and OGs got involved and, between us, we managed to read a magnificent 1.5 million words and raise close to £800 for Julian House. This charity based in Bath supports children and young people escaping from domestic abuse and children who are refugees from their own country and settling in the area. The money raised will enable them to buy books of their own choice from Mr B’s Book Emporium in Bath now that non-essential shops have re-opened. Did you know, in France, bookshops were considered essential and kept open throughout the pandemic?

Michaelmas Matilda – a new tradition was established at Downside with a dramatic recitation by our youngest pupils of Hilaire Belloc’s classic cautionary tale, Matilda Who Told Lies and Was Burnt to Death for National Poetry Day. Belloc’s grandfather was a monk at the School and later became its Head. Despite masks and rain the show went on much to the delight of the audience and was featured on BBC Radio Somerset.

Battle of the Books – a new Inter-House competition with rounds throughout the year. 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?

Following on from Visions of the Gothic, the successful one-day conference for A level English students, we are collaborating with the Science Department on a week-long project for the First Form called The Future of Food and with the University of Bristol on a conference to promote the study of the Classics.

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. Poets Toby Thompson and Tony Walsh, novelists Sally Nicholls and Gill Lewis and storyteller Katy Cawkwell have been our most recent visitors. 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 or the Centurion Book 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. 

The Library Prefects run Book Clubs every week with fun activities for younger readers; they spearhead fundraising initiatives to share the love of reading with others, sending books to schools in Kenya and to the Bath Women’s Refuge and Bristol Children’s Hospice.

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’.

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.