A common stereotype of UK libraries is that they aren’t anything near as good as one in the US. So, implicitly, you shouldn’t go there. (This excludes Oxbridge and Edinburgh since their libraries buy everything, literally.) It is true that the aren’t as good as the major seminaries/univesities because the size of the student population at a university program here doesn’t even compare to the those in the US. At Durham there are about 300 undergrads and 150 postgrads in theology versus 1k, 2k, or 3k+ at some in the US. But it is not a dire situation, nor anyway near as bad as US people make out. There are a handful of books that I was surprised Durham didn’t have but on the whole, it’s pretty decent. (The journal holdings are not as good.) Two things mitigate the problem. 1) If you need a book, just ask your supervisor and they’ll buy a copy for the library. 2) They also give an £80 research stipend each year for interlibrary loan and photocopying. (It’s £2.50 per book or article, and most come in about a 1 week.)
This year they had better recruiting in the arts and humanities faculty (~school of), so each department got a one-time chunk of extra money. The theology department split it up into different things, but most went to bursaries (~scholarships) and library purchases. For the library they just asked postgrads what we wanted. I sent off a list of about 25 books, maybe 5-10 are ones I will need and the rest were ones that just looked promising. Practically all the books put in by all of us were purchased, and a big chunk of them arrived today, which made me think about this post.
So, is the library what I would hope it would be? Nope. But it’s workable (with purchases like this and purchase requests you put through your supervisor). Also, the Cathedral and St John’s college also have theological libraries that are pretty decent for major monographs and commentaries. Between the three you can find most things, and then you just interlibrary and photocopy the rest. Plus, if it was perfect, you wouldn’t have a good excuse to tell your wife that you “need” to go visit other libraries like Tyndale House.