National Library of Scotland

The National Library of Scotland (Scottish Gaelic: Leabharlann Nàiseanta na h-Alba, Scots: Naitional Leebrar o Scotland) is the legal deposit library of Scotland and is one of the country's National Collections. Its main public building is in Edinburgh city centre on George IV Bridge, between the Old Town and the university quarter. This building is Category A listed.[1] There is also a more modern building (1980s) in a residential area on the south side of the town centre, on Causewayside. This was built to accommodate some of the specialist collections, such as maps and science collections, and to provide extra large-scale storage. In 2016 a new public centre opened at Glasgow's Kelvin Hall providing access to the Library's digital and moving image collections.[2]

National Library of Scotland
The main building on George IV Bridge
TypeNational library
Reference to legal mandateNational Library of Scotland Act 1925 & 2012
Coordinates55.948554°N 3.191899°W / 55.948554; -3.191899
Size14M printed items
Legal depositIreland and the United Kingdom
Access and use
Access requirements
Other information
BudgetOperating budget 2010/11 £14.882 million GBP
DirectorDr John Scally, National Librarian and Chief Executive

The National Library of Scotland holds 7 million books,[3] 14 million printed items and over 2 million maps. The collection includes copies of the Gutenberg Bible, the letter which Charles Darwin submitted with the manuscript of Origin of Species, the First Folio of Shakespeare and numerous journals and other publications. It has the largest collection of Scottish Gaelic material of any library.


Originally, Scotland's national deposit library was the Advocates Library belonging to the Faculty of Advocates. It was opened in 1689 and gained national library status in the 1710 Copyright Act, giving it the legal right to a copy of every book published in Great Britain. In the following centuries, the library added books and manuscripts to the collections by purchase as well as legal deposit, creating a privately funded national library in all but name.

By the 1920s, the upkeep of such a major collection was too much for a private body, and, with an endowment of £100,000 provided by Alexander Grant, managing director of McVitie & Price, the Library's contents were presented to the nation. The National Library of Scotland was formally constituted by Act of Parliament in 1925.

Grant's support was recognised with a baronetcy, and in June 1924 he became Sir Alexander Grant of Forres. In 1928 he donated a further £100,000 – making his combined donations the equivalent of around £6 million today – for a new library building to be constructed on George IV Bridge, replacing the Victorian-period Sheriff Court, which institution moved to the Royal Mile. Government funding was secured which matched Sir Alexander's donation. Work on the new building was started in 1938, interrupted by the Second World War, and completed in 1956. The architect was Reginald Fairlie; the architectural sculptor was Hew Lorimer. The coat of arms above the entrance was sculpted by Scott Sutherland and the roundels above the muses on the front facade by Elizabeth Dempster.[4]

By the 1970s, room for the ever-expanding collections was running out, and other premises were needed. The Causewayside Building opened in the south-side of Edinburgh in two phases, in 1989 and in 1995, at a total cost of almost £50 million, providing much-needed additional working space and storage facilities.

Since 1999, the Library has been funded by the Scottish Parliament. It remains one of only six legal deposit libraries in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and is governed by a board of trustees.

The Library also holds many ancient family manuscripts including those of the Clan Sinclair, which date back as far as 1488.[5]

On 26 February 2009, areas of the building were flooded after a water main burst on the 12th floor. Firefighters were called and the leaking water was stopped within ten minutes. A number of items were lightly damaged.[6]

The last letter written by Mary Queen of Scots made a rare public appearance to mark the opening of a new Library visitor centre in September 2009.[7]

The Library joined the 10:10 project in 2010 in a bid to reduce their carbon footprint. One year later they announced that they had reduced their carbon emissions according to 10:10's criteria by 18%.

On 16 May 2012 the National Library of Scotland Act 2012 was passed by the Scottish Parliament, and received Royal Assent in 21 June 2012.[8]

In April 2013 the Library advertised for a Wikipedian in residence, becoming the first institution in the Scotland to create such a post.[9] In 2016, the Library recruited a Gaelic Wikipedian in residence.[10]

In September 2016 the Library opened a new centre at the refurbished Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, in partnership with Glasgow Life and the University of Glasgow. The centre provides access to the Library's digital and moving image collections.[11][2]


As of 2013, the Library holds:[9]

  • manuscripts: 100,000 items
  • maps: almost 2 million items[12]
  • films: more than 46,000 items[13]
  • newspaper and magazine titles: 25,000 items

See also


  1. Historic Environment Scotland. "National Library of Scotland, 57 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh (LB27684)". Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  2. "Kelvin Hall". National Library of Scotland. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  3. "Places to Visit in Scotland - National Library of Scotland". Retrieved 23 March 2013.
  4. "Edinburgh, 57 George Iv Bridge, National Library Of Scotland". CANMORE. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  5. Turnbull, Michael TRB (6 August 2009). "History of Rosslyn". BBC. Retrieved 23 March 2013.
  6. "National library hit by flooding". BBC. 27 February 2009. Retrieved 23 March 2013.
  7. "Mary Queen of Scots' last letter now on display for limited time". National Library of Scotland. 13 September 2009. Retrieved 23 March 2013.
  8. "National Library of Scotland Act 2012". Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  9. Ferguson, Brian (25 April 2013). "National Library of Scotland to hire 'Wikipedian'". Retrieved 25 October 2016.
  10. "Gaelic Wikipedia in preparation through National Library of Scotland collaboration". History Scotland. 11 October 2016. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  11. "Kelvin Hall". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  12. "National Library of Scotland: Maps". Retrieved 10 August 2018.
  13. "Moving Image Archive". National Library of Scotland. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
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