Monday, July 19, 2010

Library Visit: National Library of Scotland

The National Library of Scotland, located just off the Royal Mile in Old Town Edinburgh, is one of six legal deposit libraries in the UK. Since they receive a copy, or at least have the option of receiving a copy, of everything that is published in the UK, they are a tremendous resource for scholars and inquisitive people of all types. Since the collections also have a Scottish bent, they also make a great resource for anything Scottish.

Held among the 15 floors of the main building and an off-site storage facility are the library's 14 million plus books and manuscripts; 2 million atlases and maps; 300,000 music scores; 32,000 films and videos, including the entirety of the Scottish Screen Archive; and 25,000 newspaper and magazine titles. Even with all those items currently in the library collection, the NLS still receives around 6,000 new items every week. (Poor cataloguers!)

Like the other research libraries I've seen on this UK library excursion, NLS readers must register with the library to get a reader's card. None of the items in the collection are available to be checked out of the library; rather, any research needs to be done in one of the library's reading rooms. Alos like with the other research libraries I've seen, the benefits of working with some really unique materials far outweighs the potential obstacle of only being able to work in the library proper.

What I most enjoyed about my short visit to the NLS was the variety and depth of their exhibits in their public visitors centre. One special exhibit going on now, in honor of the just-finished British Open at St. Andrews, is about golf and its history, first in Scotland and then the world. The number of artifacts they have pertaining to golf was really astounding to me; but maybe that's just because I don't really like golf too much...

A more permanent exhibit has to do with the personal papers of John Murray, otherwise known as the complete everything having to do with the seven generations of John Murrays who published some of the greatest works of literature and science, &c., from their London publishing house. The entire papers are owned by the NLS, and they have taken it upon themselves to make public some of the wonderful things contained within them. The exhibit currently covers such Murray authors as Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott, Charles Darwin, and Jane Austen. I really love that a research library such as the NLS, which could seem elite and cold because of its readers-only policy, is taking the time and resources to share some of their gems with the general public. And I'd be saying that even if one of the subjects on exhibit didn't include Jane Austen.

*above photo courtesy of Scottish Places

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