One of the main purposes of The National Library of Scotland is to preserve the memory of Scotland. Therefore, the significance of the Library cannot be overstated, and their current exhibition, 'Treasures of the National Library of Scotland’, firmly underscores this point.
The permanent exhibition can be found at their George IV Bridge location in Edinburgh, and provides a fascinating glimpse into the incredible and vast collection under their care. Furthermore, the artefacts on display have been carefully curated to demonstrate a little bit of what the Library has in its collections and what they do as part of their crucial work.
For visitors, it’s a treasure trove of objects that tell stories and reveal the significance of Scotland as a nation- its landscape steeped in history. It’s that history that must be preserved and I’m very grateful that the National Library exists and for what they do.
The importance of Scots in our history is clear as you navigate the exhibition. For example, Isobel Wylie Hutchinson, was a Scottish explorer whose travels took her across Arctic Canada and Greenland (if you are interested in learning more about pioneering female explorers, hikers, and climbers, check out our article on the National Library’s past exhibition on 'Petticoats and Pinnacles'). It’s quite amazing to think about the curiosity and courage that Isobel had to gather as a female traveller in the early part of the 20th century.
The National Library is also a key player in the preservation of both Gaelic and Scots language items. In fact, it holds one of the world’s largest collections of Scottish Gaelic printed books and manuscripts. One beautiful example (pictured below) is a 15th century manuscript on display. The book belonged to physician, James Beaton, of Dervaig on the Isle of Mull. It’s an important artefact of “Gaelic medicine...which was built on the classical medical tradition that was also being studied in the rest of Europe”.
Of course, being the National Library of Scotland, the importance of books is a relevant theme displayed throughout the exhibition. Scotland has a rich cultural history with book publishing, binding, and contributions to literature. Visitors find information on the history of the printing press in Scotland as well as some of the earliest items printed in Scotland.
Book binding is known as an art form for a reason, and the National Library has a few exquisite examples on display.
Regarding contributions to the literary world, Scotland was designated as the world's first UNESCO City of Literature in 2004. Writers both born in Scotland as well as those who have made it their home, have contributed in ways that are historic, ground-breaking, and memorable.
Looking to the future, an important focus for the National Library of Scotland is to continue to digitise their physical collections (in a variety of formats including paper, film, and audio) so that more people can access their collections wherever they may be. As they are a registered charity, support and donations are welcome and needed. If you are interested in donating to the Library, please head over to their website for more information.
Well, that’s going to do it for this week’s article. However, don’t despair as the Library is one of our favourite ‘hidden’ gems in Edinburgh. Therefore, be assured that there will be more upcoming posts on future exhibitions.
Until next time- Explore & Discover!