Guide for researchers

What we are

The National Library of Scotland, just off Edinburgh's historic Royal Mile, is one of the country's foremost research libraries — but also the guardian of a collection of Scottish, national and international material that is unparalleled.

We are Scotland's only legal deposit library. This allows us to claim and receive a copy of any printed material published in the United Kingdom and Ireland. In particular, we focus on maintaining and developing the collections of material published in Scotland or about Scotland or the Scots.

Between books, manuscripts, music, maps, newspapers and periodicals — not forgetting photographs, posters, and commemorative items — the Library's total stock in 2002 amounted to more than nine million items — an increase of a million from the previous year.

What we're not

As we are a reference library, you can only consult items from our collections on Library premises. We are not a lending library, although some inter-library borrowing is available. See the inter-library loans pages for more information. General reference material is available on open access in the reading rooms, but most of the collections are stored in closed 'stacks'. You can order these items by filling in a request slip.

Where we are

Our main building is on George IV Bridge, in the part of Edinburgh known as 'the Old Town'. Here you'll find our main reading rooms, plus the exhibitions and events areas. For other relevant information, see also:

In our building at Causewayside, further south in the city, is our Maps Reading Room, housing one of the 10 largest collections of maps and map-related material in the world. Details of opening hours and map collections and services are in the Maps section of our Collections category.

Register for a library card

With a library card you can consult NLS collections in the reading rooms. You can apply for a general card, or for a short-term card if you are an undergraduate or school student.

You can register online to start the process, but you need to visit in person to finish the process and get your card. We need to see evidence of identity and address when you come to Readers' Registration.

Visiting the reading rooms

We've compiled a list of seven most frequently asked questions at the General Reading Room in the George IV Bridge Building, which you might find useful. Particular procedures apply to different reading rooms. Find out which room you will need to use, and what facilities and services are offered, by going to the main Reading Rooms page.

How to find material

Most of the Library's collection items are listed in the main catalogue, but we also have other, smaller, catalogues (manuscripts, for example) and several web databases which can be accessed via this site: see the catalogues and databases page for the options available.

Exclusive to those visiting in person

Once you have a library card, you have the benefit of services that are not available through this website. For example, we have some licensed digital collections that are only accessible via particular computers in our George IV Bridge Building.

Reserve books in advance

If you are travelling from outside Edinburgh, you might find it helpful to reserve a book in advance of your visit. Material is stored in several locations, so delivery to the reading rooms can take anything from 30 minutes to 24 hours.

Check our preorders and reserves page for General Reading Room details. Links on that page will take you to preordering information for the other reading rooms.

Stay informed

Our news page records the latest information about Library services, events and exhibitions, and is updated fairly frequently. You can also use our news feed to get alerts when we add a new story to the page. We occasionally also send out a free email newsletter to subscribers to keep them informed of developments and give them advance notice of our events.

Contact us

Address, phone and fax details are listed on our contact page, together with general enquiry and departmental email addresses.

 

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