Part 1: The National Library of Scotland
Now, normally, I am not at all excited about Mondays – but I’m in beautiful SCOTLAND, so that’s something to be excited about! I’m also pumped about my free and delicious breakfast I had this morning – complete with scrambled eggs, bacon, a croissant loaded with Nutella, and some fruit… yummy.
Today we made two class trips – first to the National Library of Scotland (NLS) in the morning, and then to the National Archives of Scotland (NAS) after lunch. The two buildings are only blocks away from each other, and are located right off the Royal Mile, which is composed of the main streets of Edinburgh, and is the major shopping and restaurant district. Traveling from our dorms at the University of Edinburgh is easy. Though there’s no tube, Edinburgh uses a bus system that is similar to London’s, with one slight difference – our daily bus pass tickets are scratch-off, like a lottery ticket! Ha.
We were not allowed to take pictures in the NLS, but I’ll have other pictures to show you later. The NLS is actually spread among several buildings throughout Scotland, but we were in the primary one, which is in fact 15 stories high! It’s the largest library in Scotland, and the place to go if you want to research Scottish history and culture. Similarly to the British Library, the NLS is also a legal deposits library, which if you don’t remember, means they are able to have any book published in the UK if they desire. However, the difference is that the NLS must actually claim these published materials directly from the publisher, and so they do not own every book (unlike the British Library, to whom publishers automatically send books).
As opposed to venturing into the stacks and touring the facilities like we’ve done with other libraries, we instead focused on the John Murray Archive and exhibit. This particular archive is composed of materials from the John Murray Publishing House, which was founded in 1768. The website says it best:
“The archive contains manuscripts, private letters and business papers from authors who shaped the modern world through their writings on: Publishing, politics and society, literature, travel and exploration, and science.”
There are many famous people whose works and personal items appear in the archive, including David Livingstone, Charles Darwin, Arthur Conan Doyle, Lord Byron, and Jane Austen. The archive is currently composed of 1 million items, crosses every genre, and includes materials in a variety of formats. The exhibit itself is unique and interactive; the exhibit room is quite dark, with custom lighting – displays are only lit when someone approaches the item. Diminished lighting of course helps to preserve these items on display. After all, the primary goal of the archive is to preserve these treasures for future generations, and thus focus on conservation and preservation. Hearing about the “best practices” policies of such prominent archives, libraries, and museums will never get old to me, and I love absorbing the information about budgets, strategic plans, collection development and acquisitions policies, digitization plans, and all other management and administrative issues. I think my 704 class (Management of Libraries) has really rubbed off on me for the better!
Part 2: The National Archives
After a lunch break, we walked down the National Archives, which is the Scottish government’s official archive, and is also known as the National Records of Scotland. Initially established in 1774, the archives merged with the General Register Office for Scotland back in
2011. The General Register Office for Scotland contains numerous materials, including demographic statistics and censuses (records of births/marriages/deaths), deeds for estates and land, business records, and numerous resources and databases pertaining to Scottish genealogy. The archive contains additional items from the 12th-21st centuries, including old parish registers, wills and testaments, taxations records, maps and plans, church records, state and parliamentary papers, government records, court/legal documents, family papers, photographs, etc. Currently, the archive is in possession of 78 km worth of historical records, and they are adding approximately 1 km/year. An interesting note: unlike most libraries/archives/museums, this archive has the power to weed and devaluate records, which is a tricky practice, and according to our guide, has “resulted in poor decision making in the past.” I’m not sure that I would ever feel comfortable simply throwing away or destroying documents – the exception being if there were duplicates. Too much responsibility!
Many of these records are housed in a classically simple, yet elegant room (seen above) with an impressive domed ceiling. Fun Fact: the head of the archives is known as the “Keeper of the Records of Scotland.” It’s such a legit title – I love it! Can you imagine that being on your business card? No big deal…
We were shown some interesting items from the collection, and our guide was kind enough to pull some letters, maps, and press clippings relating to America – including a map of the Charleston Harbor, along with a letter criticizing the British disposition towards South Carolina’s slavery legislation! I think sometimes it’s so easy for us to be consumed in our little bubbles, that we forget how history almost always reveals to have an impact on a grand scale…. who would think that documents relating to good ol’ South Carolina would be found in the National Archives of Scotland of all places?
Once we finished up at the NAS, we were free to explore Edinburgh. A group of us walked up and down the Royal Mile, which
links the Edinburgh Castle and the Holyrood Palace. I’d love to visit both places and hope to have a chance to before we leave on Thursday! We went into several stores, and then Jessica, Jade, and I popped into a charming little place called Mimi’s Bakehouse for some afternoon tea and treats. After we’d explored the Royal Mile, we headed back towards the dorms, but stopped to order Chinese take-away. Though it was pretty chilly and windy, we sat outside the dorms to eat – I just love how clean the air is here!
Remember how I mentioned before that the campus is at the base of Arthur’s Seat? Well, Arthur’s Seat can be seen here in the background…
It’s a little intimidating to say the least, but we are planning on conquering this gigantic hill tomorrow after class!
And on that note, I think it’s time to get some sleep, so I’m well rested before attempting the impossible tomorrow!
Miss you all,