The National Library is one of Scotland's foremost research libraries with an unparalleled collection of Scottish, national and international material.
We are Scotland's only legal deposit library. This means that we can claim a copy of any printed material published in the United Kingdom and Ireland. We are also entitled to collect UK websites and other online materials made available to the public under the Legal Deposit Libaries (Non-Print) Regulations 2013.
In particular, we focus on maintaining and developing collections of material published in Scotland or about Scotland or the Scots.
We hold more than 26 million physical items including books, manuscripts, music, maps, films, periodicals, newspapers, photographs, posters and commemorative items.
Our collections pages give more information about the types of material we hold. We have the largest map collection in Scotland and our manuscript collections and rare books collections are extensive.
We also offer online material. Our digital gallery contains material digitised from the Library's collections. Through our eResources, you can access a wide range of subscription databases, and you can find thousands of online films via our Moving Image Archive catalogue.
Consulting our material
As we are a reference library, you can only consult our items in our Reading Rooms. We are not a lending library, although inter-library borrowing is available in some circumstances, as detailed in our document supply services pages.
Some of our eResources are only available onsite, some are available on open access, and others are password protected, meaning they can be accessed remotely using individual login details. Remote access to the eResources is only available if you register with the Library and if you have a residential address in Scotland. You can read our terms and conditions for more information about remote access.
Many films from the Moving Image Archive can be freely consulted via the Moving Image Archive catalogue but more films from the archive as well as the written archives are available by visiting the Moving Image Archive at Kelvin Hall.
Our reading rooms
Our two main reading rooms are located in our George IV Bridge building in Edinburgh:
- In the Special Collections Reading Room you can consult our rare books, manuscripts, and music collections.
- In the General Reading Room you can consult the rest of our material.
To access our reading rooms you must register for a library card. You must show your card on entry and keep it with you at all times. To safeguard our collections, we ask those using our reading rooms to observe our guidelines for care of the collections. For more details, see:
- Care of the collections: General Reading Room
- Care of the collections: Special Collections Reading Room
- Care of the collections: Maps Reading Room
No pens are allowed in our reading rooms. You can take pencils, paper, books, phones, laptops and tablets into the reading rooms, but bags larger than A4 size (29cm x 21cm) must be left in lockers. Lockers in our George IV Bridge building are operated with a £1 coin and there is a change machine on the ground floor. Lockers in the Maps Reading Room do not require a £1 coin. Laptops can be used in designated areas and we offer free wifi.
There is no reading room at Kelvin Hall and you are not required to hold a library card to visit, although registration is required if you wish to use some of the Moving Image Archive services.
At Kelvin Hall, computers are available to access our digital collections, including our eResources material.
Ordering our material
General reference material is available to access from the shelves in our reading rooms, but most of our items are stored in closed 'stacks' and need to be individually ordered.
Most material can be found via Library Search and using additional catalogues and databases. You may also like to consult our manuscripts guides and catalogues and our overview of rare book collections to help you find material. You can use our Moving Image Archive catalogue to search for films and video content.
When you have found an item you would like to consult, you must order it. Most items can be ordered using our online request system. There are separate procedures to order manuscripts and request maps. Once requests are received, items are fetched and delivered to the Collection and Returns Desk of the relevant reading room, where they will be kept on reserve for you for six working days.
Since items must be individually collected, we recommend that, where possible, you preorder material in advance of your visit to avoid waiting on arrival.
The time to fetch material depends on where it is stored. It can take several hours for items to be delivered if they are not stored in George IV Bridge. You can preorder items using the online request system, or you send us details of your request through our online enquiry service or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copying our material
We allow self-service photography of some of our material to create working copies for private study or research. Self-service photography is only permitted using camera phones, tablets and compact cameras.
Further guidance applies to self-service photography in the General Reading Room, to self-service photography in the Special Collections Reading Room, and to self-service photography in the Maps Reading Room. Before you begin photographing our material, you must sign an agreement available from reading room staff.
In our General Reading Room we provide self-service scanning, photocopying and microform printing facilities for the copying of general collection items. Before you copy material using these facilities, they must be checked by reading room staff for conservation clearance.
As well as our self-service copying facilities, our Imaging Services department offers more specialist copying services and map copying services.The Moving Image Archive can also supply copies of films.
If you wish to copy our material for re-use in a publication, please refer to our guidance on permission to re-use our material.
Supporting your research
The Library is committed to encouraging and promoting research. If you would like to investigate a research collaboration or apply for a research fellowship or scholarship you may like to refer to our academic research pages.
If you have an enquiry about your research, or if you require help to find or order material, you can consult with a member of staff during your visit.
There are also several ways to make enquiries in advance of your visit. In some cases, enquiries may be referred to specific curators with particular areas of curatorial responsibility. If you have a specific area of interest, you may like to consult our list of manuscript curators or our list of rare book collections staff before making an enquiry.
Our address and phone numbers are listed on our contact page, together with general enquiry and departmental email addresses.