Supporter Stories: Neil and Debra Blair

Neil Blair came up to Exeter to read Jurisprudence in 1986.  He worked hard and was acutely aware from the very start of the privilege of living and working in such a beautiful and historic place.  He feels that, in many ways, being at Exeter launched his professional career and he looks back on his student days with gratitude and affection.

Now a literary agent, Neil’s days are filled with books and writing.  He has spent time over the last few years visiting some of Exeter’s ancient printed books and manuscripts and understanding their varied provenance.  He admits to being amazed that a 30,000-strong collection of rare books could have lain under his feet in the basement of the College Library without his knowledge while he was a student, and he fully supports Exeter’s aims to make these volumes more accessible to all.

Two years ago, Neil and his wife Debra chose to make a donation to support the construction of the climate-controlled archive space and reading room at Cohen Quadrangle.  They believe strongly in opening up access to ancient collections so that students, scholars and visitors alike can learn more about these treasures.  They are excited about what this storage and study area will mean for Exeter’s special collections and archives.

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Neil Blair at Cohen Quadrangle.

“I have always been passionate about literature, something which grew throughout my time as a student at Exeter and which is fundamental to my professional life.  So when I learnt about the opportunity to restore Exeter’s most precious books and move them to the best possible storage space on the new quadrangle, I was delighted to help.  I am excited to think that these amazing collections can be preserved for the future and made better available to more people for study and research,” he said.

Neil, Debra and their friends visited Cohen Quad during construction in the summer of 2015 and were the first visitors to enter the basement archive section under construction.  Standing on bare concrete with builders working all around, the group were amazed to think that in eighteen months’ time the first precious books would have a permanent home in this very spot!

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Neil and Debra Blair survey the construction of the special collections storage area at Cohen Quad.
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Basement plan of Cohen Quad with the rolling stacks for Exeter’s special collections visible at the top left-hand corner of the image.

To learn more about Exeter’s special collections, follow the College’s Librarian’s blog and read our previous post on this site.

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