Day 20: Edinburgh Central Library


Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Another fun-filled day in Scotland up ahead! (Check out breakfast on the Foods in England/Scotland page)

We visited the National Library of Scotland and toured the Edinburgh Central Library this day. They are literally across the street from each other on George IV Bridge, just off the Royal Mile.

National Library of Scotland (via K. Emmons)
National Library of Scotland (via K. Emmons)

The National Library of Scotland is another deposit library in the United Kingdom. It receives copies of all books published in the UK. We didn’t get a formal tour of the space, but the exhibitions in the front are free and TOTALLY worth checking out. At the time of our visit they had an exhibit called “Lifting the Lid” that detailed 400 years of Scottish cuisine. Everything in the room was fairly interactive! Tons of cases full of actual artefacts and written documentation. There was an area for children to play and draw pictures of their favourite food. It even touched on the modern day. The exhibition runs until November 8, 2015 so if you get the chance, check it out!

The city of Edinburgh has 28 libraries. 28! Some of them are quite small, but that’s still 28 serviceable library areas for roughly a half million people. I would consider the Central Library the crown jewel…

“Let There Be Light” (via K. Emmons)

Across the street from the National Library you’ll find the Edinburgh Central Library. It’s 125 years old and was opened in June 1890. It’s an Andrew Carnegie library and the architecture proves it.

Andrew Carnegie bust (via K. Emmons)
Andrew Carnegie bust (via K. Emmons)

The library started as a lending library and reference library where gentlemen were separate from the ladies. There are a mixture of lending and reference services; study spaces; quiet spaces; a difficult balance to maintain. Funny enough, I thought the arrangement of collections throughout the building was very telling: it has a fantastic Edinburgh local history collection making up the bottom floor; the music collection is just above that; the lending collection and children’s rooms are on the floor where you enter; the art collection is just above the entry; and the reference collection sits on the top floor. I metaphorically see the local collections grounding the library with it’s roots and the jewel of a reference collection crowns the library with it’s lofty knowledge and information.

Okay. So maybe it’s a stretch… it was pretty when I thought of it. 🙂

The music library collection features biographies, histories, sheet music, reference, and theory books, as well as a CD collection. There is a small teen collection on the same floor, though that’s mainly a test area at the moment.

The reference library on the top floor is original to first construction. It’s filled with rows of books and looks like a typical “library” in my mind.

How to reach the higher platform? (via K. Emmons)
How to reach the higher platform? (via K. Emmons)

The area is for quiet study and has many desks in the center of the room. To reach the books up high there are secret doors!


It was magical! It was fantastic! As if faeries were around! Or Harry Potter!

To bring it back to reality, the reference collection is being questioned on it’s necessity. (This, I believe, is a worldwide problem.) Those that hold the purse strings want to know why such a large, beautiful space needs to be taken up by so many crusty, old books that people can’t even take home so what’s the use of them anyhow?

…obviously I don’t agree with this manner of thinking. By using the reference collection in my home library, I can find answers to particular questions (such as: what was the sign hanging over such-and-such printer’s shop who printed such-and-such book 200 years ago?) easier than doing a Google search. Shocking, I know! A librarian should know his or her reference collection – I think having a physical reference collection located in the reading room is a sign of a strong library.

But that’s just my opinion.

5+ area (via K. Emmons)
5+ area (via K. Emmons)

The children’s library is tucked around a corner and technically in a separate building, but is ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL. It was recently renovated (2014) and has separate areas for the under 5 year olds and older than 5.

0-5 area (via K. Emmons)
0-5 area (via K. Emmons)

The area doubled it’s user base in a single year. That’s. Amazing.

The lending collection is located on the same floor where you walk in.The lending library is completely self-service, though librarians still staff the area to answer questions and help patrons. 20,000-25,000 books are issued per month.

Self-checkout in the lending collection room (via K. Emmons)
Self-checkout in the lending collection room (via K. Emmons)

Fantastically the staff of the Edinburgh Central brought us back to meeting room and gave us tea and biscuits (cookies)! We then had the fortune to listen to three very intelligent librarians discuss programs pertaining to the library.

Karen talked about collection development – the whole of the library’s collections are available to the public. That was a Carnegie stipulation and different from what I’ve found in other UK institutions. An online catalogue exists, but a card catalogue is still used. The jewel of their library, like I’ve said, is the Edinburgh collections. They’re trying to merge digital with the physical by setting up a website for locals to upload their history. In the past, the people of Edinburgh could donate letters, journals, and photographs to the Edinburgh collections. Since the 1980s things have been digitally sent. People can now go to a particular website and upload photos and other documents to help grow the Edinburgh collections into the new century. Our Town Stories is a digital format for the local history.

Sarah, who has a business/IT background, uses those techniques in the public library setting. She strives for literacy initiatives including programs to help the dyslexic. (Dyslexia-Friendly Resources here) It’s about awareness, engagement, support, and mainstreaming to other branches. Tons of reader development. Brining families together by reading together. Giving 1,200 children books to young children. All great stuff!

Allison talked about the digital space of the library and the different programs they’ve set up: Edinburgh Collected; YourLibrary; Our Town Stories; OverDrive; Tales of One City blog; twitter; facebook; HootSuite; Library2Go; and on and on.

It’s a fantastic library… it makes me want to be a part of a public library and help like they are…

The rest of the day was me checking out of the dorms at University of Edinburgh and traveling across the city to meet my Mom and friend at a hotel. Unfortunately their original flight was cancelled so they arrived late and without luggage. We wandered down to Prince’s Street to get them some warmer clothes and had dinner before returning to the Sheraton for bed.

On to Day 21!


One thought on “Day 20: Edinburgh Central Library

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