Iconic manuscripts are among the greatest treasures of the National Library of Scotland.
Our collections are also varied and diverse, illuminating the everyday lives of people in Scotland and around the world.
Records in Gaelic and Scots offer insights into Scottish life, culture and language.
On this page
Since 1925, we have acquired, preserved, and provided access to unpublished materials of national importance. These include:
- The personal archives of individuals.
- Family and estate papers.
- The records of businesses, community groups, trade unions, publishing houses, and political, cultural, sporting, and charitable organisations.
Among the greatest treasures of the Library are:
- The last letter of Mary Queen of Scots.
- The Bannatyne Manuscript.
- The Iona Psalter.
We also look after some of the world’s most significant archives relating to Scottish literature, industry, leisure, and innovation. This includes manuscripts created by Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, and the Stevenson family.
Together with the Moving Image Archive, we achieved Archive Service Accreditation in 2019.
Archival collections come in a wide array of formats. Our earliest records are handwritten on vellum or parchment. Later records are often handwritten, typed or printed on paper. We also have photographs, maps and drawings.
Increasingly, we are collecting digital media. This can come to us in any number of formats, from floppy disks and hard drives to records held in the cloud.
Finding archive and manuscript material
You can search for material using our Manuscript catalogues and guides page and Library Search.
View digitised items from the archives and manuscripts collections in the Library's Digital Gallery.
Accessing the collections
You can consult the archives and manuscript collections in the Special Collections Reading Room in our George IV Bridge building in Edinburgh. You will need to join the Library to visit the Special Collections Reading Room.
A small number of our collections have restricted access. See our page about consulting material in the Special Collections Reading Room for more information.
We also offer a wide range of copying services.
What we collect
The Library and its predecessor, the Faculty of Advocates, have been continuously collecting manuscripts and archives since 1683.
The Library has a Collections Development Policy which outlines the kind of collections we are looking to acquire. We will consider any offer in relation to the policy and will sometimes consult other archives. If we decide your collection does not fit with our Collections Development Policy we will always try to advise on alternative options, such as approaching another archive.
We welcome approaches from individuals and organisations who are interested in donating material (including digital records) related to:
- Scottish literature
- Publishing and allied trades
- Political parties, trade unions and labour history
- Exploration, emigration and travel
- Family and estate papers
- Science and engineering
- Scottish art and artists
- Contemporary Scottish culture
- Gaelic and Scots language
- Medieval and Early Modern Scotland
- Scotland's long 18th century (1688-1832)
- Church of Scotland World Mission
- Scottish military history
We want our collections to represent Scottish life and culture in all its diversity and encourage people of all backgrounds to consider the Library as a home for their collections.
For general enquiries about archives and manuscript collections you can ask a question online.
Our archives and manuscript curators all have expertise in particular subjects and would be pleased to answer questions relating to specific areas of the collections. We welcome enquiries about partnerships and research collaborations.