Travelling Librarians #2

It’s August and we’re in Edinburgh. That can only mean one thing – we’re off to the Fringe Festival, right?! Wrong. We’re librarians remember and we only visit other cities to visit other libraries.

This month we decided to take a day trip to the capital to explore libraries at Queen Margaret University, the University of Edinburgh and the National Library of Scotland. It was an opportunity for us to share experiences, pick up new ideas and….ok we mostly just wanted to have a nose around. So here’s a brief summary of what we got up to.

Queen Margaret University, Learning Resource Centre

Our first visit was to Queen Margaret University, based in Musselburgh on the outskirts of the city. Their Learning Resource Centre is very compact with everything easily accessible on one level and it’s conveniently split into two halves, representative of the two Schools of teaching there – the School of Arts and Social Sciences and the School of Health Sciences.      

I was surprised to learn that their library is open 24 hours a day throughout the year and not just during exam periods, but since the student halls are only a stone’s throw away, anyone pulling an all-nighter doesn’t have far to trundle home in the wee hours (that’s if they haven’t curled up on one of the library sofas).

And to make it even more like a home from home, students can consume any food and drink in the library, which is by the way a legitimate pizza delivery destination. Thoughts of greasy fingerprints and crumbs accumulating between pages of books had me twitching, but it could be argued that these policies encourage students to use their University library and perceive it as a safe and welcoming place to study. It’s something that staff and students will continue to debate ad infinitum. 

University of Edinburgh Main Library

From Musselburgh to the centre of Edinburgh, we made our way through hordes of festival goers trying not to get distracted by street entertainers in their underpants (photograph unavailable). Our next stop was the University of Edinburgh Main Library, a Grade-A listed, eight-story construction housing the bulk of the University’s collections as well as the Centre for Research Collections.

Although the two libraries couldn’t be more dissimilar in terms of size, like QMU, a lot of thought has gone in to making the Main Library a student-friendly environment. For example, there are group study carrels overlooking the Meadows and uCreate labs where students can design and do large scale printing and scanning. Throughout the library, accomplishments are championed on “You said, we listened” posters, and I think it’s really important that libraries highlight these positive messages, to show students that their input is valued and acted upon.

We could’ve easily spent all day here wandering around the collections, but we still had one more library to visit before jumping on a train back to Aberdeen.

National Library of Scotland

For our final tour of the day, we decided to visit Scotland’s legal deposit library, the National Library of Scotland, formally established in 1925. There are over 24 million items in its collections, which include printed music, maps, architectural drawings, newspapers and other run of the mill stuff like a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio. And for anyone interested in accessing their online collections, it’s completely free to register online and gain access to selected resources.

Although we never got to see any Shakespeare, other rarities were in store for us in the form of microfiche readers and card catalogues and we were fortunate to get into one of the reading rooms briefly to see where all the shhhh goes down. Visitors cannot simply go to the NLS and borrow a book – they must become a registered user first, then they can request materials and consult them in a designated reading room (no bags, jackets, pens or water allowed, definitely no pizzas allowed).

Time wasn’t on our side, but even though we weren’t able to hang around for long it was brilliant to end the day exploring a library that is so different to our own, providing us with the chance to learn about how a non-lending, legal deposit library operates. We’ll just have to come back some time!

We would sincerely like to thank Sheila, Rachel and Veronica for being so welcoming and taking time out of their day to show us around their libraries. We promise not to spend so much time taking selfies next time….


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