I was fortunate that during my time in the British Studies Program I got to see, do and experience some truly wonderful things, but my absolute favorite part of the entire trip was the London Away portion in which our class journeyed to Edinburgh, Scotland. I can not pin point exactly what it was that I loved so much about Edinburgh it may very well have been a combination of all of the things I experienced there, however I do know that the work at the libraries that we visited left a profound and lasting impression on me.
The National Library of Scotland was an impressive institution; they are an academic library however I did not realize this until I was specifically told. This is because the library does not market itself strictly to scholars and researchers, the National Library provides free access to its collections and even creates special exhibits designed to draw a wider audience to the vast resources that they house. Anyone is able to come into the library and access the materials in the reading room, the reason that the library is so willing to accommodate the general public is that a lot of public money went into funding the John Murray Archives.
Within the library there is a unique and custom exhibit, the John Murray exhibit. The exhibit is kept in almost complete darkness due to the fragility of the materials within the exhibit and the fact that some of the artifacts on display are worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. The exhibit features a custom lighting system that only lights up items when they are being viewed, actors were hired to create recordings of manuscripts in the exhibits making them come to life before the viewer. The exhibit is highly interactive and requires the viewer to explore the entire space in order to experience everything. Our tour guide stated that creativity and innovation are the most important factors to consider when designing for these exhibitions.
The National Library is very concerned with access, they leave to stone un-turned when it comes to making materials available for the general public. The use of voice recordings is crucial to providing broader access to manuscripts as it brings the text to life, manuscripts are also very difficult due to handwriting, language barriers and general fading that occurs over time. The library provides translations of all of their manuscripts in order to overcome these barriers to information. Full manuscripts have also been digitized in order to provide greater access, the library has an in house conservation team which makes this massive workload possible.
For more information about the National Library of Scotland click here!