National Library of Scotland

Our first library visit in Edinburgh was to the National Library of Scotland, on Monday, July 27. This is one of six national depository libraries in the United Kingdom, this designation was established in 1710, the library as an independent entity has been around since 1925. Although there are gaps in the early collection, the main purpose of the library is to preserve materials on Scotland and Scottish culture.

The are three main components or collections at the National Library of Scotland. The Rare Books Collection includes materials that were published before 1850. The Manuscripts Collection includes all of the unique books. The Modern Collection contains everything else about Scotland or by Scottish authors, such as Robert Louis Stevenson's novel, Treasure Island. Overall, the National Library of Scotland contains 14 million books and manuscripts, 2 million maps and atlases, 300,000 musical scores, 32,000 films/videos, 25,000 newspapers/magazines, and 6,000 new items arrive every week.

The library also seeks to educate the patrons with various exhibitions. The John Murray exhibit which chronicles seven generations of Murray publishers who were responsible for the distribution of very famous literary works by Scottish writers. The John Murray exhibit was closed at this time, but Scottish emigration display was open and very engaging.

The exhibit has quite a few tactile aspects, which allow visitors experience what it must have been like to leave friends, family and homeland behind to pursue uncertain opportunities. There are diary entries on display and "telephone receivers" that patrons can pick up in order to listen to some of the stories in the accents of the people who lived through them. These Scottish emigrants went to places as diverse as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Uruguay, China, and Indonesia. Their artifacts show how they managed to preserve their heritage with dances and festivals that reminded them of their Scottish roots.


There are also early references to the Highland Gathering being an important event that would always bring the emigrants home. Perhaps because the Scottish legacy is smaller and a little more homogeneous, the Scottish National Library seemed much more personal than the British National Library. I appreciate the way that these librarians and exhibit curators create a library space that gives a context for Scottish contributions to the arts, literature and academia.

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