National Librarian's report
Our physical collection of books, manuscripts, maps and other items rests on some 200 kilometres of shelving — enough to stretch almost from Edinburgh to Inverness. However, the physical is increasingly giving way to the digital and, in the past year, an important change took place when we added more digital content to the collection than physical items.
Seeing a handwritten poem by Robert Burns or a letter from Robert Louis Stevenson is always a thrilling experience. That is why long queues developed when we put on show the last letter of Mary Queen of Scots in Edinburgh and Burns's 'Ae Fond Kiss' in Glasgow. The members of the public who turned out to see them were delighted at the opportunity. But such was the interest that we saw a corresponding escalation in the number of people visiting our website to view the digital versions of the documents. Our web feature on Mary Queen of Scots was viewed more than 15,000 times on the day the letter went on display — an increase of almost 5000% on normal traffic. The same effect was seen on the day of the Burns display.
This is all part of our commitment to develop the Library as both an exciting onsite and online destination. While we continue to develop services for people who visit our buildings in Edinburgh and Glasgow, the internet gives us the opportunity to reach out beyond Scotland to engage with an international audience who are interested in what we have to offer. That is why we are working to have a third of our collection in digital format by 2025 and further progress was made towards this goal throughout the year.
This was a landmark year for the Library which saw us extend our reach beyond Edinburgh for the first time when we opened The National Library at Kelvin Hall in Glasgow. This is truly a library for the 21st century where most of the content, including rich research material, is in a digital form and can be searched and viewed on screen. It is also home to our Moving Image Archive — Scotland's national film collection — which offers thousands of historic films of life in Scotland for enjoyment and education. The number of people visiting the Library at Kelvin Hall has exceeded our estimates and we have been very encouraged by the positive comments made, including from Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who officially opened the building in November. Within months of opening, Kelvin Hall won a prestigious EDGE 2017 award for the best new physical space in library and information buildings across the UK.
It was an important year for maps at the Library. Our main exhibition featured some of the most important and beautiful maps in our collection including the earliest printed map of Scotland from 1560. The exhibition 'You are Here' posed questions about how maps are made and how much we understand about them. It was very successful, being seen by 94,000 people. There was wide interest in the work carried out to save a rare 17th century map of the world that had been found in a near-ruined state during building work on a property in Aberdeenshire. Substantial sections of the paper had disintegrated after being attacked by vermin and insects. Work in trying to save the map has been one of the most complicated projects the Library's conservation staff have ever worked on and the restored version is testament to their skills.
Our smaller displays which highlight treasures from our collections were also well received. Throughout the year these featured items relating to the architect Robert Adam, the writer Jessie Kesson, the work of the early pioneers of photography and Blackwood's Magazine, which was first published in 1817, and was considered to be the most influential literary-political journal of its time.
The collections of the National Library of Scotland are truly international with material in hundreds of different languages to reflect diverse cultures around the world. We are also committed to supporting the Scots language and Scots Gaelic. To that end, we were pleased that Scotland's Cabinet Secretary for Education, John Swinney, joined us in the Library in December to launch a new website called 'Wee Windaes'. It aims to raise awareness of the history, richness and cultural significance of Scots from its use as the language of the state in the Middle Ages to its appearance in modern novels and poetry.
We continued to make more Gaelic material available online with the addition of An Comunn Gàidhealach publications and we also appointed the world's first Gaelic Wikipedian to work with the Gaelic community across Scotland to improve and create resources on Uicipeid, the Scottish Gaelic Wikipedia.
This year we became a partner in a network representing Britain's biggest libraries whose aim is to share ideas, knowledge and expertise to develop the important role of libraries in the 21st century. The Living Knowledge Network is one of a number of collaborations the Library entered into to benefit from shared expertise. We joined the International Image Interoperability Framework Consortium (IIIF-C) as a founding member which is made up of a select group of world-leading institutions. Its work will help influence and develop a suite of services for accessing and using high quality digital images. We also agreed a three-year framework for collaboration and partnership with the University of Edinburgh focussing on research and teaching. Shared working of this nature helps to strengthen the Library and assist in the achievement of our objectives.
Our collections hold many items of international significance including the diary of the commander of British forces during WWI, Field Marshal Douglas Haig. In June, the UNESCO Memory of the World programme, which recognises documentary heritage of global significance, decided to add the Haig diary to its international register. In the process, the Library became the first Scottish heritage organisation to be awarded this much-sought-after international accolade.
We were privileged to have Professor Sir Kenneth Calman join us during the year as Chair of our Board. He brings a wealth of experience from the many and varied posts he has held, both in the health service and in public life. He leads a Board with a wide range of expertise which is providing essential advice and support to the Library's senior management team. Our work also benefits from the financial support offered by our patrons, benefactors, trusts, corporate supporters and individuals whose generosity helps us in a multitude of different ways. I would like to thank all of them for the difference they make, as well as pay tribute to the Library's staff whose work makes this a special place.
The physical book, the hand-written manuscript, the printed newspaper and the paper map will always have a central role in the life of the Library but we now find ourselves at a crossroads. The opportunity offered by the online world allows us to share the riches held within our collection with people who would never be able to visit our buildings. It also means we can present information in new and engaging ways as evidenced by the mini websites we have developed such as one on the journals of Henrietta Liston, the remarkable diplomat's wife who helped to repair relations between Britain and the United States in the aftermath of the War of Independence. It is often said that the future is digital and we are developing in that direction while maintaining and improving the functions of a traditional library. These are exciting times and we aim to make the best of them.
Dr John Scally
Highlights of the year
Progress against our strategic objectives
Safeguarding collections: We will be the guardian of the published and recorded memory of Scotland for current and future generations.
- Made significant progress on the major renovation of Library's main book store at the Causewayside building in Edinburgh.
- Developed the Scotland's Sounds programme that aims to preserve and share the country's rich audio heritage.
- Added more than 3,000 new physical items to the collection every week including important purchases such as letters bought at auction relating to Robert Louis Stevenson.
- Conducted a regular programme of surveys to check the condition of collection items and carried out conservation treatments where needed.
- Saved a disintegrating 17th century map found during building work on a house in Aberdeenshire thanks to the skill of the Library's conservation staff.
Improving access: We will make it easier to access the collections. By 2025 we will have a third in digital format.
- Doubled the percentage of the collections available digitally from 5.5% at the start of the year to almost 11.8%.
- Created almost 1.1 million new digital images — an increase of 23% over the previous year and higher than in any other previous year.
- Became a founding member of an international group of world-leading institutions — the International Image Interoperability Framework Consortium — to improve access to and use of digital images.
- Carried out the first live online streaming of a public talk at the Library on 'Playing Shakespeare: 400 years of great acting'.
- Introduced a new system allowing users of the general reading room to use their own mobile devices and compact cameras to photograph content from the collections, subject to copyright and the Library's terms and conditions.
Supporting learning: We will ensure our collections and services make an important contribution to the education, learning and advancement of our citizens.
- Joined the Living Knowledge Network — a consortium of Britain's most significant libraries — to share ideas and expertise.
- Launched the 'Wee Windaes' website designed to raise awareness of the history, richness and cultural significance of the Scots language.
- Further developed the Library's volunteer programme which provides opportunities for interested individuals to support our work and gain valuable experience for themselves.
- Continued to add new content, including Victorian photographs of Glasgow, to the online Learning Zone, a superb resource for learners of all ages.
- Offered more than 90 learning events and workshops throughout the year which continued to prove popular with audiences.
Promoting research: We will encourage and promote research.
- Strengthened links with the University of Edinburgh by signing a Memorandum of Understanding to support education and research.
- Continued to collaborate with organisations such as the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Arts and Humanities Research Council on projects.
- Completed the third year of a successful programme of hosting a Fulbright scholar at the Library as part of a programme established in 1946 by the United States Government.
- Led the Connecting Scotland's Sounds project which provided training for researchers working with sound archives.
- Hosted a number of residencies for writers working with the collections including the post of Scots Scriever, Gavin Wallace research fellow and a sports writer-in-residence.
Inspiring engagement: We will design and deliver public engagement programmes that will educate, entertain and inspire the communities of Scotland
- Welcomed over 132,000 visitors to the Library's exhibitions — an increase of 11% on the previous year.
- Increased website traffic to over 4.1 million visits — an increase of 17% on the previous year. Over a million visits are now made every quarter.
- Staged two major exhibitions: 'Plague: a cultural history of contagious diseases in Scotland' and 'You are Here' which explored the wonderful world of maps.
- Displayed the last letter of Mary Queen of Scots in Edinburgh and Robert Burns's 'Ae Fond Kiss' in Glasgow in a continuing programme of special events to attract people to the Library.
- Continued to build the Library's presence on social media which is helping to attract a younger audience to become interested in our work.
Reaching out: We will develop the National Library as an exciting and memorable destination for both onsite and online visitors
- Opened the National Library at Kelvin Hall in Glasgow, giving people in the west of Scotland easy access to the Library's world class collections for the first time.
- Launched a project to improve the public spaces in our main building on George IV Bridge in Edinburgh.
- Appointed the first ever Gaelic Wikipedian to work with the online encyclopedia Wikipedia to improve its Gaelic language content.
- Developed plans for a programme of touring exhibitions to be offered to libraries and museums around Scotland.
- Continued to offer loans of items for exhibitions and displays both at home and overseas.
- Improved the Library's website to give it a more modern, user friendly interface.
Funding our work
Other trading activities
Donations and legacies
Grant in Aid
Other running costs
What people say
'Brilliant – the National Library of Scotland is doing such fantastic work online.'
— Mary Dunne on Facebook.
'The National Library at Kelvin Hall is bringing resources and collections into public use in a way we have not seen before. There has been lots of good feedback from visitors: One comment touched on what we always want visitors to a library to be saying — "could spend all day here".'
— EDGE award judges comments on Kelvin Hall.
'I love this place and am delighted it's in Glasgow. I'm pleased it's open for everyone. I think I'll be a regular visitor.'
— Myra Fulton one of the early visitors to the Kelvin Hall.
'The Library is the perfect place with journal subscriptions, a vast reference section, wi-fi and coffee all under one roof but it's more than that – it's a museum too.'
— Keith Houston author of 'The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of our Time'.
'At the Library's website, I found everything I was looking for and the online service was easy to use. I had found it nearly impossible to get anything like the same information from other national libraries and museums. lt compelled me to write to the Library's map room and thank them.'
— Olly Nichols from Lincolnshire who found the location where his grandfather was killed in WWI from using trench maps held in the collection.
'The "You are Here" map exhibition is excellent! It's really well put together, with useful information, an awesome variety of interesting maps & fun quizzes. Thanks!'
— Fiona Lauckner on Facebook.
'Went on the "behind the scenes" tour and absolutely loved it! Extremely helpful staff who made certain it was a great experience.'
— Teresa Hyatt Fraser on Facebook.
'Love this place so much. Wonderful, welcoming atmosphere. What a treasure.'
— Susanne Duffy on Facebook.
'A place that is always worth a visit. Somewhere that is easy to miss with the more famous landmarks close by. In my opinion a hidden gem.'
— Cathryn Jackson on Facebook.
'Whoever said libraries are a thing of the past needs to visit The National Library of Scotland. Great use of modern technology to bring things alive … and the NLS encourages photographs!!!'
— Charbala Mundesley on Tripadvisor.
Download the 2016-2017 Annual Review (PDF) (2.4 MB; 12 pages)