Thursday, 2 August 2007

Entry #10 National Library of Scotland

The National Library of Scotland was established in the twentieth century by the Act of Parliament 1925. The collection was formerly located in the Advocates Library, founded in 1682, which served as the deposit library for Scotland until 1925. Today it is the largest library in Scotland and one of the ten largest libraries in the world with more than 13 million printed items, over 100,000 manuscripts, two million maps, and 25,000 newspaper and magazine titles. They add around 320,000 new materials annually and their collection encompasses 490 languages.

While our lecturers gave a small introduction to the library’s history they mainly focused on the archive collection. Their archives are worth over £45m and include the famous John Murray Archive. The John Murray Archive Collection was purchased from the publishing house of John Murray with the help of £17.7m from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £8.3m from the Scottish Executive, and £6.5m gathered from fundraising. There are over 150,000 items covering the fields of literature, science, politics, travel and exploration during the years of 1768-1920.

I was amazed when we went to view the set-up; they arranged the room to look like the publishing house circa 1800’s and had wonderful displays. In the first room were about 8 tall pods that had outfits and items related to different authors. Beside each pod was a computer screen giving information about the author and the items. Being a Lord Byron fan, I loved standing next to a life-size mannequin wearing his clothes and seeing works penned by his hand. Along with these pods were a publishing computer game, an area designed for children, and three rooms of India/Scotland archives. Of all these I was most interested in the children’s area on India. They had a chalkboard for kids to practice writing Hindu, masks, Indian books and stamps, toys and more. It was obvious that the designers worked hard to help children relate to the culture and language.

With the main thrust of the library being the archive collection I stated thinking about how modern libraries seem to be morphing into museums. Libraries contain cultural deposits and are centers for learning, but with the Internet and technology making content more readily accessible libraries are having to update materials and their presentation to reach out to people. By setting up these “museums” and displaying items in an easy-to-read and understand method, they are drawing in members of the community that otherwise would not visit. The hope is that patrons will be interested in the items and use library materials to learn more or else just become more familiar with the library and want to come back to see what they have. Either way, I think this is a great way to overcome problems presented by technology and to make patrons better informed and involved in history.