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145 years of world class knowledge

The new year ushered in the 145th year of the ICAEW Library & Information Service, which first sprang to life in the heady days of 1871. In the same year, grocer and tea producer Thomas Lipton opened his first shop, James Ramsden launched the Iron Shipbuilding Company (later to become Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering) and the production line at the Continental tyre factory in Hanover began to swing into operation.

The founder of the library, the fledgling Institute of Accountants, sought to elevate the status of professional accountants, initially in London and later across the whole of the UK. The legal profession could already boast many fine libraries, but no such equivalent existed within the accountancy profession and many practitioners had urged the creation of a similar repository of knowledge that they could draw upon to help them compete for business.

The power of knowledge

Although the early library collection contained few titles on accountancy (reflecting the information needs of accountants at this time, which were heavily weighted towards bankruptcy and company law), the founders set out to advance their knowledge of current accounting practice by looking to the accounts of prominent companies.

On 23 April 1879 the Council told the Institute's Annual General Meeting that they had 'much pleasure in reporting that their request to the Secretaries of Public Companies to furnish them with sets of their accounts was most courteously responded to. Accounts have been received from more than 70 Companies, many of them covering a great number of years; and they have been arranged in the Library of the Institute as to be readily referred to.'

This initiative set in motion a process of relevant information gathering that has not stopped since. There have been many further additions since then that have built upon this early knowledge gathering exercise. Works in our collection from the early twentieth century include rare and sometimes archaic titles such as Laundry accounts, Tramway bookkeeping and accounts simplified and Cotton spinners' accounts. Many of these works on company accounts were written by ICAEW members, sharing their knowledge with their peers.

Industry guides published in The Accountants' Library series in the early 20th century

Today, members can still access example accounts in print and online publications, or use the databases in the library to delve further into filed accounts (perhaps to see how early adopters of a new standard have handled it, or to look at accounting practice in a particular sector).

You can also find works on accounting for industry sectors ranging from aviation to pharmaceuticals – a far cry from the industries covered by the collection of a century ago!

World class

Today, the ICAEW Library & Information Service is one of the largest accountancy libraries in the world. With a collection of more than 100,000 volumes in over 20 languages it spans the history of the profession, with a variety of material to interest the researcher, combined with the latest resources on accounting needed by the chartered accountants of today.

Find out more

Why not find out more about the History of the ICAEW Library or take a look at the ICAEW Library & Information Service website to find out more about the services and resources that we offer today.

To talk to a member of the Library enquiry team about how we can help you please contact us by telephone on +44 (0)20 7920 8620, by web chat or by email at library@icaew.com