Events at the National Library

National Library of Scotland events are free and take place in our George IV Bridge Building, unless we state otherwise.

Places are limited, so we recommend that you book in advance.

From January 2016, we are using Eventbrite for online event bookings. When you book an event you will be taken to the Eventbrite website. You can also phone 0131 623 3734.

April events | May events| June events

List updated: 19 April.

For more information, or to join the events mailing list, email


April events

See also: Workshops and tours


Rave reviewer: Scott on 'Frankenstein', 'Emma' and 'Childe Harold'

Leather-bound copies of books

Sir Walter Scott was one of the most influential and prolific literary critics during the golden age of the review. He reviewed works by Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, Lord Byron and Robert Southey, and even penned a critical review of his own work anonymously. Manuscripts Curator David McClay explores the stories behind each of these reviews, books and authors. The reviews also feature in 'Rave reviewer': an exhibition bringing together never-before-seen literary treasures from Scott's library at Abbotsford and the collections of the National Library.

Wednesday 20 April
Free. Book 'Rave reviewer' on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


Curating the 'Plague!' exhibition

Illustration of a black rat

Rare Books Curator Dr Anette Hagan talks about how the 'Plague!' exhibition was conceived and researched, how the theme of a cultural history of contagious diseases was developed, and how potential exhibits were identified. The talk also covers the designers' ideas and work that turned the exhibition space into an old Edinburgh close. Hear how the final list of exhibits came about, what exciting facts were learned, and what mishaps happened along the way.

Thursday 21 April
Free. Book 'Curating the "Plague!" exhibition' on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


George Mackay Brown: An evening of celebration

Cover of George MacKay Brown's autobiography

George Mackay Brown was one of Scotland's greatest 20th-century writers. He drew his artistic vision from the wellspring of the landscape, along with the speech and sagas of his native Orkney Islands. To mark 20 years since Mackay Brown's death, his biographer Maggie Fergusson, family friend Morag Macinnes, and leading author James Robertson discuss Mackay Brown's life, work and legacy for the next generation of writers. The event is chaired by Jenny Brown.

Thursday 21 April
Free. Book the George Mackay Brown evening on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


Just William

Front cover of 'Will' by Christopher Rush

Join William Shakespeare scholar and author Chris Rush as he celebrates the lasting legacy of the world's greatest playwright. Rush also discusses his novel 'Will', a fictional biography of Shakespeare's life. This event commemorates 400 years since Shakespeare's death.

Tuesday 26 April
Free. Book 'Just William' on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


An 'Iolaire'

Photograph of a shipwreck

Over 200 Lewis and Harris men drowned in sight of Stornoway harbour when the 'Iolaire' sank in 1919. This event, in English, brings alive the tragic story. Professor Matthew MacIver of the University of the Highlands and Islands gives the introductory talk. Stenhouse Primary School and Tynecastle High School then give a performance of drama, Gaelic poetry and song in a new play by William Hershaw. Produced in partnership with Iomairt Ghàidhlig Dhùn Èideann. Funded by Bòrd na Gàidhlig.

Wednesday 27 April
Free. Book 'An "Iolaire"' on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


Mungo Park, the Niger, and late enlightenment exploration

Portrait of Mungo Park

Charles Withers — Professor of Historical Geography at the University of Edinburgh — examines the exploration of the River Niger by the Scottish explorer Mungo Park (1771-1806). In this illustrated talk, Withers examines Park's two 'expeditions' to the Niger, and his two subsequent books: 'Travels in the interior districts of Africa', published in 1799, and 'The journal of a mission to the interior of Africa', published posthumously in 1815.

Thursday 28 April
Free. Book 'Mungo Park' on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


May events

See also: Workshops and tours


Scotland — a history

Front cover of 'Scotland: A history', by Alistair Moffat

Historian Alistair Moffat explores the Scottish nation through key moments — the Battle of Bannockburn and the Jacobite Risings — and less-documented episodes, such as inventions and literature. Using tales from his recent book, 'Scotland: A history from earliest times', Moffat outlines the drama of battle, change, loss and invention, interspersed with the lives of ordinary Scottish folk.

Tuesday 3 May
Free. Book 'Scotland — a history' on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


Plague and Pestilence! A Caddy Capers story tour of Auld Edinburgh from Macastory

Etching of a man with a cape over his face

A Tradfest event

Join the Caddies for a plague-ridden walking tour of Auld Edinburgh. Hear tales of pestilence and mysterious goings-on in the heart of the Toon. Meet a fearsome hooded figure stalking the city, bringing death in his wake, and a band of plague-purging pirates out to stop him! A storytelling tour of gruesome family fun!

Suitable for families with children aged seven and over. Sturdy footwear and waterproofs are advised. The tour starts at the main Library building.

Sunday 1 May

Sunday 8 May

Free. Book 'Plague and Pestilence!' on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


The province of the cat: Storying Caithness

A Tradfest event

Front cover of 'Province of the cat', by George Gunn

George Gunn opens up the landscape and culture of Caithness with his new storytelling masterpiece, 'The province of the cat'. Experience the myths, folklore and communal history of this unique part of Scotland through words, images and music.

Monday 2 May
Free. Book 'The province of the cat' on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


The end o' the shift — working lives in Fife and Perthshire

Photograph of a man in a workshop

A Tradfest event

The great industries that make modern Scotland are rooted in traditional skills, ingenuity and natural inventiveness. Stories from Scottish workers have been collected for an oral history project, paying tribute to their enormous contribution to science, technology, art and culture. This illustrated presentation, by folklorist Margaret Bennett, shares highlights from the project and introduces some of the contributors.

Tuesday 3 May
Free. Book 'The end o' the shift' on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


William Macmath and the songs of Dumfries and Galloway

Photograph of a group of folk musicians
© Kim Ayres.

A Tradfest event

Songwriter Ali Burns opens up the pages of William Macmath's 19th-century collection of folk songs and brings it back to vibrant life. Macmath (1848-1922) collected, verified and catalogued centuries of historic Scottish ballads, saving them for future generations. The collection is a window on Dumfries and Galloway, and a national treasure trove.

Wednesday 4 May
Free. Book 'William Macmath' on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


Workin' the sea — Port Seton and Cockenzie

Photograph of a boat in a harbour

A Tradfest event

The revival of making and sailing small boats in East Lothian recalls the life of the sea-going communities of Port Seton and Cockenzie. Archie Johnstone, Martine Robertson and Gareth Jones guide us through the stories, songs, traditions and customs with the help of pictures and music. What can a revival of small boats offer these coastal communities for the future? This event is part of GalGael Productions.

Thursday 5 May
Free. Book 'Workin' the sea' on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


The unbroken circle — Helen Fullerton in Argyll

Photograph of Helen Fullerton

A Tradfest event

Helen Fullerton collected and made songs, working with Argyllshire Travellers and the dam builders from Donegal. Geordie McIntyre, Alison McMorland and Kirsty Potts lead the discussion on a remarkable border-crosser and her unique view on lives in western Scotland that were richly-lived, but hard.

Friday 6 May
Free. Book 'The unbroken circle' on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


Understanding what the European Union means to you

The European Union flag flying against a blue sky

Neuropolitics, behaviour and identity

A drop-in series of workshops and talks, debate and learning to introduce a unique approach to understanding what the European Union means to you. Run by the University of Edinburgh's Neuropolitics Research Lab, this series marks Europe Day, and is hosted at the Library throughout the day and into the evening.
More about Europe Day events

Monday 9 May
All day


Catherine Simpson's 'Truestory'

Front cover of 'Truestory' by Catherine Simpson

How raising an autistic child inspired a novel

'Truestory', the debut novel by Catherine Simpson, tells of an 11-year-old boy with autism who refuses to leave the isolated farm where he was born. Catherine discusses her novel with BBC Arts producer Serena Field, and talks about how the story was informed by her own experiences.

Tuesday 10 May
Free. Book Catherine Simpson's 'Truestory' on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


Callum Macdonald Memorial Awards

Front cover of the Callum Macdonald Memorial Award leaflet

The Callum Macdonald Memorial Award aims to encourage independent publishing of Scottish poetry, and is given in recognition of skill and effort in the field of poetry pamphlets. This prize-giving ceremony is followed by readings by the winning poets, along with a public display of all competition entries.

Thursday 12 May
Free. Book the Callum Macdonald Memorial Awards on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


Shinty: An infusion of Highland blood

Black and white photograph of a shinty team

At the National Library is an unparalleled collection of material relating to the ancient and noble game of shinty. The collection pays testimony to the way the sport has been played in Scotland's capital, often with 'an infusion of Highland blood'. In an illustrated talk, Dr Hugh Dan MacLennan — of Edinburgh University Celtic and Scots Department and the Academy of Sport — examines highlights and occurrences of the game in some unlikely settings.

Tuesday 17 May
Free. Book 'Shinty' on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


Playing Shakespeare: 400 years of great acting

Front cover of a theatre programme

Literature and the Arts Curator Andrew Martin presents a concise history of Shakespearian acting, based on our extensive collections and the 'Playing Shakespeare' treasures display. The talk celebrates great Shakespearian names, from Richard Burbage to Benedict Cumberbatch, and commemorates William Shakespeare's theatrical legacy 400 years after his death.

Thursday 19 May
Free. Book 'Playing Shakespeare' on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


Secret histories in Edinburgh and Shrivenham

Front cover of a history book in Russian

Soviet military studies and the Cold War

Russian military historian Dr Steven Main reveals some hidden gems in two complementary Russian military collections. The Erickson Collection at the National Library of Scotland was generously donated by Professor John Erickson, a former defence specialist and expert on the Red and Soviet Armies. Cranfield University's Barrington Library has launched online the Russian Military Studies Archive, which it manages on behalf of the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. A partnership event with the Scotland-Russia Forum.

Thursday 26 May
Free. Book 'Secret histories' on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


Gavin Wallace memorial event

Logo for the Gavian Wallace Fellowship

Angus Peter Campbell — the Library's current Gavin Wallace Fellow — hosts a celebration of the late Gavin Wallace, a former head of literature at Creative Scotland. On what would have been Wallace's birthday, enjoy an hour of great music and readings from the works of some of Wallace's favourite writers, including Norman MacCaig, Iain Crichton Smith and Jackie Kay.

Friday 27 May
Free. Book the Gavin Wallace memorial event on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


June events

See also: Workshops and tours


Serbian Herioters

Photograph of the Serbian Herioters

During the First World War, 27 boys from Serbia were given refuge in Edinburgh. From 1916 to 1919, they were educated at George Heriot's School, where they found fame as rugby champions. Several of their descendants — visiting from Serbia for the centenary — talk with writer Louise Miller about the boys' experiences in Edinburgh and their lives after returning home.

Monday 6 June
Free. Book 'Serbian Herioters' on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


Casting light on darkness

Handwriting detailing the date of the Diodati visit

The place: Villa Diodati, Switzerland. The time: summer of 1816, the summer of darkness. The people: an outstanding literary circle including Lord Byron, Dr John Polidori and the soon-to-be Mary Shelley. The result: great works of fiction, including 'Manfred', 'The vampyre', and 'Frankenstein'. Manuscripts Curator David McClay discusses how the John Murray Archive casts light on this fascinating period of literary creation and how the archive supports a range of national and international events and exhibitions

Tuesday 14 June
Free. Book 'Casting light on darkness' on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


Unquiet Dreams: Ghost stories at the Villa Diodati, 1816

Drawing of three women

In June 1816, the 'year without a summer', Lord Byron rented the Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva. A remarkable gathering and a ghost story challenge stimulated two of the most famous literary works of the 19th century: John Polidori's 'The Vampyre' and Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein'. This event revisits that meeting, exploring this significant moment in Gothic fiction’s history, and the writers' cultural legacy in literature, science, and film. Dale Townshend, University of Stirling, and Linnie Blake, Manchester Metropolitan University, join Emily Alder and Sarah Artt from Edinburgh Napier University for a lively conversation about the Gothic then and now.

Thursday 16 June
Free. Book 'Unquiet Dreams' on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


New voices

New voices logo

Discover the brightest debut literary talents, and be the first to hear future prize-winning and bestselling authors in our new regular showcase. Chaired by Jenny Brown, four writers read from their work and talk inspiringly about their road to publication.

Tuesday 21 June
Free. Book 'New voices' on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


Sparkiving: Loitering with intent to catalogue

Photograph of items in the Muriel Spark archive

With the recent acquisition of the final instalment of the Dame Muriel Spark archive, the Library holds one of the broadest records of a writer's life ever assembled. Muriel Spark Project Curator Dr Colin McIlroy journeys through newly discovered highlights of the collection, as we learn more about the fascinating life of one of Scotland's literary greats.

Thursday 23 June
Free. Book 'Sparkiving' on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.


The joy of spines — spoken word

Photograph of a book spine

A Fringe show preview

Right in the heart of Edinburgh are 120 miles of underground shelves that store the Library's collection of 24 million items. Graeme Hawley — performance poet, slam winner, and General Collections Manager at the Library — presents this slideshow and found poem, comprised entirely of book spines. Amusing, thought provoking, and unexpectedly moving.

Thursday 30 June
Free. Book 'The joy of spines' on Eventbrite or phone 0131 623 3734.

See also:

Speak me