National Library of Scotland

The National Library of Scotland on George IV Bridge, Edinburgh
©2023 Gazetteer for Scotland

The National Library of Scotland on George IV Bridge, Edinburgh

Located on George IV Bridge in Edinburgh is the main building of the National Library of Scotland, Scotland's largest library and its only copyright deposit library, which means that a copy of every book published in Britain must be lodged there. Above a row of small windows along the street is a high windowless frontage which conceals the reading room and below the street are seven floors which provide storage for the books. The building was designed pre-war by Reginald Fairlie (1883 - 1952) and the foundations were laid and a stell frame built by 1939. However work stopped during the war years and it was not finished until 1956 and officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on the 4th July of that year. The front is decorated by sculpture representing the arts and sciences by Hew Lorimer (1907-93).

The National Library was founded in 1925 and is run by a Board of Trustees on behalf of the nation. It traces its origins back to 1680 and the Faculty of Advocates, whose library was created through the efforts of Sir George Mackenzie (1636-91), zealous prosecutor of the Covenanters. The Advocates's Library formed the core of the collection, which today extends to more than 7 million volumes. There are many historically important books, for example the 'The Chepman and Myllar Prints', which represent the earliest books printed in Scotland (c.1508) and include Blind Harry's Wallace and poems by Robert Henryson (1452 - 1508) and William Dunbar (c.1460 - c.1520).

Other important holdings are an 11th Century Jerome manuscript Bible, a 15th Century Gutenberg Bible, one of the first examples of printed text, and numerous documents including letters by Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87), one of the copies of the National Covenant (1638) and the order which brought about the Massacre of Glencoe (1692). It also holds the first-known map of Scotland on its own, produced in Italy in 1560 by Paolo Forlani, and the first maps of Scotland produced by a native, surveyed in the late 16th C. by Timothy Pont (1565 - 1614).

The library is growing at around 400,000 books per year and this has necessitated both a book-store in Sighthill and an extension and Map Library at Causewayside (Newington), which houses around 1,600,000 maps. The latter opened in 1989 and was designed by Sir Basil Spence and Partners.

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