Central Library, Edinburgh

Edinburgh Central library is older than my current library, though not by the centuries that some of the university libraries in England can claim. Central got started in 1850, and Art Circle has its origins in 1898, though a dedicated building didn’t come around until 1939. They do, however, have more in their local collections, having both an Edinburgh collection and a Scottish collection, not to mention their digital collections.  The Edinburgh collection was considered a major “jewel in the crown of the library,” as it should be- it contains materials in every format, from photos to books and everything in between, which includes a collection of at least 10,000 pamphlets from the time that the format became widespread that was given to the library at its opening. A significant amount of the Edinburgh collection is available through their digital collections; though far from all that’s available, there’s still a lot there. Having it digitized is great for both accessibility and for preservation- while a digital copy is never going to replace the original, having a digital version available for people who just need the content cuts down on the handling of the original immensely. Handling, naturally, is one of the worst things for keeping any material in excellent condition. Books are for use, and so are other library materials, but digital versions mean that the book will be available for use for far longer.


They very definitely have a bigger reference collection. An entire ballroom sized space with nothing but reference materials, two stories high, with hidden staircases… this kind of thing is novel to me. My library’s reference collection doesn’t get enough use to justify more than a couple of shelves. Granted, the city of Edinburgh is rather larger and rather older, which MIGHT have something to do with it. Might.


Not for the only time during the British Studies program, I wondered if the librarians were aware of the Imagination Library. (it’s a program that sends an age-appropriate book to any registered child from birth through age five.)  I never had a chance to inquire deeply, and while I know that the program has a toehold in the UK, it’s not terribly widespread.

Alison Stoddart spoke to us about the digital offerings; I got notes as best as I could here, and then communicated with her later specifically as my project concerned the digital offerings specifically. Central has had a dedicated digital team for about five years now. They’ve created a portal to library services from the official government website, which links users to all online library services from e-books with Overdrive to the crowdsourced Edinburgh Collective “community archive of Edinburgh memories.”  The most popular of all the digital resources? the driving theory test prep section.

That still cracks me up.


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