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.


World Book Day – this year’s theme was My Story. On 5th March storyteller Katy Cawkwell enthralled us at a Viking Feast with The Tale of Fafnir.

Visions of the Gothic – a one-day conference to support A level English students at Downside and from other local schools organised in conjunction with the English Department and with the support of the Artist in Residence.

Recent collaboration between the library and the Art Department resulted in vibrant banners heralding the entrance to the library and marking reading spaces in two of the boarding houses. 

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

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 and novelists Sally Nicholls and Gill Lewis 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 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.

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.