Frequently asked questions
- How can I find out if you have a copy of a particular book?
- Can I reserve books?
- I cannot visit the Library: can you do some research for my project involving Scottish books?
- I am looking for striking illustrations for a book/TV programme/brochure: can you help?
- How long will I have to wait for photocopying?
- Can you help me find out about my Scottish ancestors?
- How can I find out what my own rare books are worth?
- What is your rarest book?
- Do you have specialists in particular subject areas?
- What if I come across a book I think you might want?
1. How can I find out if you have a copy of a particular book?
If you don't find anything in our main catalogue, even after different searches, you may need to consult the Library's old card catalogue, available on microfiche in the Special Collections Reading Room. This is particularly important for 16th- and 17th-century English and Scottish books, many of which are not yet fully described on the main catalogue.
If you still find nothing, see other search options.
2. Can I reserve books?
You can reserve up to six books at a time by contacting Rare Book Collections by phone (between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday), by fax or by email. (See below for contact details.) Please try to give us 24 hours' notice if making a reservation, or let us know on Friday afternoon about using books on Monday — and remember to tell us if you change your plans and will not be coming in to use your reserved books.
3. I cannot visit the Library: can you do some research for my project involving Scottish books?
No, we cannot carry out lengthy research on other people's behalf. We take enquiries by phone, fax, and email, but do not normally spend more than an hour on any individual enquiry. If you think your enquiry is going to involve more work than this, you may need to consider employing a researcher to act on your behalf: we can try to find one for you.
4. I am looking for striking illustrations for a book/TV programme/brochure: can you help?
We can help you find suitable material for your publication, although we cannot carry out a lengthy search. It greatly helps us if you can be very specific about the images you need. There are charges for permission to reproduce from the Library's collections, as well as for the reprography itself: for further details please see the 'Using the Library' section of our website. You might also find it useful to browse our growing digital gallery.
5. How long will I have to wait for photocopying?
The National Library of Scotland carries out photocopying orders promptly, but some reprography processes take longer than others, and at times there can be exceptional delays. If you want to contact us about your order, please have ready full details of what you wanted copied and when you made the order.
6. Can you help me find out about my Scottish ancestors?
The Library may have some information about your ancestors; it is possible that your family papers may have been added to the manuscript collections, or that we hold a Bible which records family names. See the family history section for an introduction to the sources and services we have available. The National Archives of Scotland holds many official public and legal records. For records of births, marriages and deaths, try the General Register Office for Scotland. Other useful websites are:
A recommended book is 'Tracing your Scottish Ancestors' by Cecil Sinclair (Revised edition) Edinburgh: Stationery Office, 1997.
7. How can I find out what my own rare books are worth?
We do not provide formal valuations for readers, but we can suggest a number of useful resources. You can search our catalogues and databases to get an idea of how common your book is in institutional collections. Then, you can consult a CD of records of books sold at auction worldwide (known as 'American Book Prices Current') in the Library. We can supply details of local booksellers and auction houses on request. Things to think about besides author and publisher are the date, the condition (the value may be lowered by damage), whether it is a first or limited edition, and any indication of previous ownership.
8. What is your rarest book?
There is no simple answer! Some of the one million books we are responsible for are 'rare' in the sense that they are very valuable: for instance, we have copies of the Gutenberg Bible and the First Folio of Shakespeare. Others are rare because they are very scarce or unique — such as the volume containing the first Scottish printing by Chepman and Myllar.
9. Do you have specialists in particular subject areas?
Each member of Rare Book Collections staff has particular skills and areas of expertise: for details, see our page about staff, their interests and responsibilities.
10. What if I come across a book I think you might want?
The National Library of Scotland does not hold a copy of every book published, but in Rare Book Collections we do try to cover the printed output of books produced in Scotland, written by Scots or which are about things Scottish. If you come across a title which you think we might be interested in, please let us know. You might find it useful to see our lists of principal additions to the collections to get an idea of the kind of material we purchase. We are always very happy to discuss offers of possible donations.
The following is a website link to a very useful list of FAQs relating to rare books in general: Your old books
Tel: 0131 623 3899
Fax: 0131 623 3888