Exhibition reveals books and their owners

New exhibition reveals 'The private lives of books'

13 November-31 January 2005, National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge

J K Rowling, Sir Alex Ferguson, Richard Holloway, Wendy Alexander, David McLetchie, Phyllida Law, Kirsty Wark and Alexander McCall Smith are the celebrities who have all contributed books that have a special significance for them to the National Library of Scotland's new exhibition.

'The private lives of books' explores the unique relationships that develop between books and their owners and reveals that many books in the Library's own collections have hidden stories to tell.

Exhibition organiser and Rare Books Curator Anette Hagan said: 'Books can tell all kinds of stories — and what they tell us about the lives they have led can sometimes be of greater interest than the written words inside. This exhibition reveals the untold stories behind the covers - where books have travelled, who owned them, and how they were used — or abused — before they reached the safe haven of the Library.'

The National Library of Scotland contains over eight million books and many have surprising stories to tell about their past. Mysterious inscriptions, famous and not-so-famous signatures, special bookplates and bindings are just a hint of a secret past, which gives books a special fascination. The exhibition features famous books with anonymous owners, as well as less well-known books owned or borrowed by famous people.

Highlights include: a children's book given to Robert Louis Stevenson by his nurse a few months before his fifth birthday, which shows pencil marks and could have been the inspiration for his future classics; a book which, research shows, was owned by no less than four British Prime Ministers; the Gutenberg Bible and the provost of Edinburgh who spent years trying to acquire one; and how one of the earliest Scottish books ended up in Russia.

'The private lives of books' exhibition also reveals the secrets of books owned by ordinary people including: a bible that was an exhibit in a court case; the book that was censored by the Spanish Inquisition; a book for blind people before Braille was invented; the story of an Edinburgh magazine that saved its owner from a bullet during World War I; and a library book 200 years overdue.

'The private lives of books' is a free exhibition and opens at the National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, on 13 November 2004 and runs until 31 January 2005.

10 November 2004

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