Week 3: Monday, 14 July – National Library of Scotland

NLS

On our first official day in Edinburgh, Scotland we were fortunate enough to visit the National Library of Scotland (NLS). Similar to the British Library in London, NLS is the largest library in Scotland and also like its English counterpart, NLS is a non-lending library, which simply means you are not allowed to check books out but must request them before coming and they can only be used in the library. This also means that NLS is not a browsing library; you can’t walk into this library hoping to browse the stacks for a good book to read. So what good is it? It is good for research! As one of the best research libraries in Europe, NLS is an important reference library, with millions of items ranging from books to photos, films, sound recordings, and more at your request. NLS is also a legal deposit library, and if you remember from my post regarding the Bodleian a legal deposit library is able to request and receive a copy of every item published in the UK.

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Entrance to the National Library of Scotland
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Entrance to the National Library of Scotland

From the moment we approached NLS I have to admit I was smitten. The library is currently undergoing some construction but they have found a clever way to make a bad situation work for them by decorating the construction barriers with information on current exhibitions. Upon entering, the first of several grand staircases draws you up into an open, well-lit vestibule where the café, gift shop, and information center wait to serve your needs. It is hard to believe that not too long ago this area had been closed in with a guard posted by the door waiting for you to state your business before entering. When I asked why the change, our guide said they hired a new director who felt it was time to make NLS more inviting. Well, I felt invited, even in the stacks nine floors down. I thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the John Murray Archive Exhibit and our guide, David McClay, was not only knowledge but very engaging and enthusiastic about the exhibit, which in turn rubbed off on the group. Indeed, when he formerly ended his presentation and allowed for further exploration several us were just happy to engage him in an extended Q&A period. What I loved most about his presentation was the idea of using archival material in a way that draws in those who would never come for traditional purposes, like research. This was not only exemplified by the John Murray Archive Exhibit but the Behind the Lines: Personal Stories of the First World War exhibition as well. It made me wonder how I could use materials in my own library, whether it be academic or public, to bring in people who don’t typically patronize the library. Food for thought…

Visit the National Library of Scotland on the web at http://www.nls.uk/ for more information

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