Places to Visit in Scotland
- National Library of Scotland

National Library of Scotland

The National Library of Scotland is the successor to the historic Library of the Faculty of Advocates, which opened in 1689. It is located on George IV Bridge, Edinburgh.

In 1710 the copyright act of Queen Anne gave the library the right to claim a copy of every book published in Great Britain. This is a privilege which the library retains to this day, and shares with only four other national libraries in the UK including the British Library in London. As the legal deposit library for Scotland, it is entitled to claim a copy of all UK and Irish publications, almost 5,000 books are sent to the Library every week.

With the purchase of manuscripts, archive material and thousands of books and periodicals being published each year, space was, by the 20th century, at a premium. With a financial gift of 100,000, with matched funding from the Government, plans were made to construct a purpose built library on George IV Bridge. It was completed in 1956 and opened by Her Majesty the Queen.

The George IV HQ building was closed temporarily a few years ago and reopened in October 1999 after a five year 12.7 million refurbishment programme.

The Library Today
National Library of Scotland The NLS today is Scotland's largest library, offering the best research facilities for academics, writers and post graduate students. A new purpose built building housing a map library and dedicated Science library was opened in 1995 at a cost of 40 million. The size and range of the libraries' collections are unmatched by any UK library north of Cambridge and is the world's leading archive for books and manuscripts on Scotland's history and culture. Amongst many rare and valuable items include the last letter written by Mary Queen of Scots and the only known copy of Blind Harry's 15th century epic, the Wallace. The first printed book, the Gutenberg Bible of 1455 is preserved here, as are some of the earliest works printed in Scotland. Special emphasis is obviously given to books by or about the Scots, wherever published, and in whatever language they may be written.

Amongst the great collection of historic maps, there are the first detailed maps of Scotland, from the 1580s, and traces the urban and rural changes that slowly created the modern Scotland of today.

The Library is not just a museum of the past however but a leading source of current information in all fields of study and research. Modern maps of almost every part of the world are used by businesses and professional, social and economic researchers, the education community and even expedition planners. There is also unique public access to large-scale Ordnance Survey digital mapping.

National Library of Scotland The changing face of Scotland today is charted by new manuscript collections including vital papers of politicians, pressure groups and trade unions. The history of Scottish culture and the arts is featured in important collections from theatre companies, as well as the work of leading contemporary authors, such as the extraordinary Muriel Spark (pictured here) literary archive. This features all her personal papers, letters, school reports and certificates, photographs, juvenilia, early drafts as well as first editions of her famous novels such as the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and foreign translations of her work. The entire collection will be invaluable to any future biographer or a student researching her life and work, tracing the development of her career as a writer from schoolgirl to the present day as an octogenarian Grande Dame of Letters - and still writing.

Apart from storing books and papers the library has specialist staff for the preservation and repair of antiquarian books. This involves traditional craft and book binding skills as well as the latest technology. Experts in conservation visit the Edinburgh library from overseas, part of an on going international development into the study of the care and preservation of archive books.

The NLS has a responsibility to record the publishing output of the nation. The Scottish Bibliography Unit maintains the Bibliography of Scotland, the world's most complete listing of modern publications on Scotland and the Scots. This details books, periodicals, and major articles of Scottish interest published anywhere in the world. There are also bibliographies on the Scots Language and Scottish Gaelic. There are also 20,000 translations of Scottish literature in 100 languages, listed in the bibliography of Scottish literature in translation. These unique resources can be consulted worldwide over the internet.

Inside the National Library of Scotland There is an inter-library loan service so that certain books and documents may be supplied in the international inter-library lending community. There is a dedicated research service, in order to trace specific publications not only in Scotland but anywhere in the world. The Scottish Business Information service and Science library provides up to date information to the scientific, technical and business communities.

The library's Web Site gives direct access to its catalogues. With 2.5 million records, the main catalogue is one of the largest of its kind in Europe. The internet allows digital images of key items from the collections to be viewed remotely. The development of this Digital Library will enrich its resources available to the public and thus plays a significant role in supporting education through an exploration of new technology.

The Library is funded by the Scottish Parliament with an annual grant in order to purchase rare and valuable books as well as manuscript collections and literary memorabilia for the nation. Three centuries after its foundation, the NLS now holds 7 million printed books, 120,000 volumes of manuscripts, 1.6 million maps and over 20,000 newspaper and magazine titles. The wealth of material can be consulted in the five reading rooms of its two main Edinburgh buildings at George IV Bridge and Causewayside.

Note that the text of this feature was written by travel writer Vivien Devlin. The graphics on this page are courtesy of the National Library of Scotland.

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