Wednesday, July 28, 2010

National Library of Scotland

Ah, the National Library of Scotland. Such an unassuming outside. Inside, however, well... look at it!

We went to the National Library of Scotland on a rainy Monday morning, our first in Scotland. We took a bus ride from Dalkeith to Edinburgh, which took about half an hour or so. It was a pretty good way to see Edinburgh up close but not outdoors where it was drizzling. Once at the library we learned that there was no tour for us to do so I decided to have a latte and then check out the exhibits.

The National Library of Scotland is the legal depository for Scotland. It began in the 1680s as the Library of the Faculty of Advocates (whatever that actually means). In 1710 it was made a legal deposit and has the right to every book published in the UK. Like most legal deposit libraries, the National Library of Scotland is not a lending library but has a similar system to the British Library's reader cards.

At the National Library of Scotland is a small amount of exhibit space, which has been put to some of the best use I have seen in a museum, in the UK or the US. First is an interactive exhibit about the John Murray Archive. It highlights several famous Scots (and others from the UK) and their work using touch tables that allow readers to see the artifacts up close without actually touching them. There is also an excellent exhibit on the history of golf, which was born in Scotland. The floor is covered in artificial grass and there are flags with trivia questions around the space. I thought this was a really clever way to get people to interact with the exhibit rather than just look at and barely absorb. Finally, there is a small showing of Timothy Pont's Maps of Scotland which are the earliest surviving detailed maps of Scotland, made in the 1580s and 90s.

The library also has a small area that answered nearly all of the questions I had about the institution. They hold about 14 million books and manuscripts, 2 million maps and atlases, 300,000 music scores, 32,000 films and videos, 25,000 newspapers and magazines, and receives about 6,000 new items a week. Phew!

The above picture is from Most of the historical information is from the National Library of Scotland website.


  1. Bumping into your post while I was looking at library pictures. I have seen this picture multiple times but it is always attributed to the Astronomy Library of the University of Utrecht. I think the picture is really neat and would like to visit the library one day. Is this picture actually from the National Library of Scotland?? Thanks!!

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