Monday, July 27, 2009

National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh: "Scots Wha Hae"

The National Library of Scotland is one of the six legal deposit libraries in the UK, and the only one located in Scotland. It is a wonderful resource for all things Scottish, and for innumerable other subjects as well. Like many of the other libraries we've visited, the NLS is a reference, non-lending library, but there are so many incredible resources available for readers. They have over 14 million items, 100,000 manuscripts, 25,000 newspaper (every Scottish newspaper!) and magazine titles, and their materials contain almost 500 languages. The collection is now funded by the Scottish government (with some additional funds from fundraising and the Heritage Lottery fund), but the library was originally established as the Library of the Faculty of Advocates by Scottish lawyers in the 1680s. In 1710, under the Copyright Act, the library was named as a legal deposit library. The library did not become the National Library of Scotland, however, until 1925.

While the library has always attracted academics, students, and local researchers, there is a movement to attract readers outside of the traditional user base - the general population. Increasing access is one of the main goals of librarianship, and I was both impressed and inspired by the NLS's approach. Our guide, Emma Faragher, an Education Officer for the library, works with a team of six people to increase library exposure and perform outreach services. The Education Officers create library education programs, develop and design exhibitions, and travel around Scotland to demonstrate what the library has to offer.

Some of the unique strengths of the collection:
--manuscripts from Scottish authors like Robert Louis Stevenson
--rare books, including the only known copies of nine of the earliest printed books in Scotland
--the John Murray archive
--a copy of the Gutenberg Bible (which has been digitized and is available online)
--last letter of Mary Queen of Scots, six days before her execution
--a wealth of Gaelic material, and works in Scots and Gaelic, ancient and modern

I enjoyed their interactive learning format and their current affairs exhibition space. While we were there, they had an exhibit (of which we could unfortunately not photograph) called "The Original Export: Stories of Scottish Emigration." It was filled with Scottish emigrants' correspondence, journals, and artifacts, and it was truly touching to observe. I loved my NLS experience: I love the preservation of Scottish heritage, the push for increased access, and the beautiful space in general. The visit was simply not long enough. I would love to pay another visit to the NLS (especially in the form of an internship) and experience new exhibits, and obtain a reader's ticket to explore the wealth of the collection.

For more more information about the National Library of Scotland, visit:

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