National Library of Scotland Reading Room in Glasgow
Fredric Saunderson, Intellectual Property Specialist at the National Library of Scotland, and DLF Steering Group member
The National Library of Scotland is Scotland’s largest library and one of the UK’s five legal deposit libraries, along with the British Library, the National Library of Wales, the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, and Cambridge University Library. (1)
Rooted in Edinburgh’s history as a legal hub, the Library began life as the Faculty of Advocates Library in 1689. With the financial backing of Sir Alexander Grant and an Act of Parliament, (2) the National Library was formed as a separate, public body in 1925. (3) After work was interrupted by the Second World War, the Library’s purpose-built home on George IV Bridge, in the centre of Edinburgh’s Old Town and adjacent to the Faculty, opened to the public in 1956.
Since 1710, the Faculty and subsequently the National Library have enjoyed the right to claim a copy of any work published in the UK under the tradition of legal deposit, which enables the creation of crucial archives of published output. Through legislation in 2003 (4) and 2013 (5), legal deposit was extended to encompass works published in ‘non-print’ formats, including electronic publications and materials made available online (eg web archiving). Although an important and significant advancement, the introduction of ‘non-print legal deposit’ presented new access challenges to legal deposit libraries.
The National Library has historically operated as a reference library. Unlike public libraries, or much of the collections of academic libraries, users of the National Library are not able to remove works from the reading rooms to consult them offsite. Because the Library’s legal deposit collections act not only as a resource for today’s interested researcher, business-person, or family historian, but also as a record of published output, this is a preservation necessity.
Unlike printed works, however, electronic resources can be accessed remotely without presenting a threat to the long-term preservation of the resource or its information. Nevertheless, non-print legal deposit legislation places significant restrictions on how works may be accessed and used, in spite of the technical advantages. Websites, ebooks, ejournal articles, and other non-print sources collected through legal deposit may only be accessed on the premises of one of the five UK legal deposit libraries, the premises of Trinity College Dublin Library, or the the premises of the Faculty of Advocates Library in Edinburgh, which, through its historic ties to the National Library retains certain legal deposit rights.
Coupled with the preservation-based limitations applied to printed works, on-site only access to electronic works presented particular challenges for the National Library. Not only could users access printed works only if they visited central Edinburgh, they’d also only be able to access legal deposit electronic material through the central Edinburgh facilities.
Irrespective of these limitations, simple service rationale dictated that the Library needed to gain a footprint in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city and centre of a city region home to around one third of the nation’s population. (6) In the late 20th Century the Library expanded its Edinburgh estate to take in a second storage and public-access facility, and in 2007 the Glasgow-based Scottish Screen Archive (now the Moving Image Archive) was incorporated into the Library, affording the Library a West of Scotland location, albeit one with extremely limited public access facilities. Opportunity to expand public access, however, came with the moving of Glasgow’s transport museum to the new Riverside Museum, freeing up space with Glasgow’s historic Kelvin Hall.
With a rich a varied history, including as a concert venue, wartime factory, international exhibition space, sports arena, and transport museum, Kelvin Hall enjoys a prime position opposite Glasgow’s illustrious Kelvingrove Art Museum and in the shadow of the University of Glasgow. (7) The museum sited in this vast and impressive venue moved in 2012 and a staggered regeneration project subsequently saw the facility expanded and reconceived from the ground-up. Stage one of the new Kelvin Hall opened in Autumn 2016 as a collaboration between The University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum, Glasgow Museums, Glasgow Life sports centres, and the National Library of Scotland.
Kelvin Hall is now a public-facing home for the Library’s rich moving image collections and for many of its electronic collections. In particular, the National Library at Kelvin Hall operates as an access space for non-print legal deposit materials. The space, while a library in name, is conceived of very differently from the traditional library concept. The space is specifically designed for access to digital resources, whether films, videos, ejournals, or electronic resources. With a meters-wide, interactive video wall at its heart, the space offers armchairs and touchscreen monitors that highlight the moving image collections. Unlike the reading rooms in Edinburgh, and largely because unlike in those rooms original collection items do not circulate in the public space, use of the Library at Kelvin Hall does not require registration. Whenever the space is open, anyone can walk in and engage directly with the digital collections, including non-print legal deposit materials.
This represents real change and opportunity. Although by law access to non-print legal deposit material is limited, through Kelvin Hall the population of Scotland has a greater, more diverse opportunity to engage with this wide and deep range of works.
Edinburgh has been the historic home to the National Library, so the ability to provide on-site, open, public access to collections at the heart of Scotland's largest urban area for the first time is a very significant advancement. To be able to include non-print legal deposit collections in this offering, without the need to register, is particularly exciting.
Glasgow, Edinburgh, and the surrounding central belt regions account for over half of Scotland’s population. So, while there remain many in Scotland who live far from access to legal deposit collections, whether print or non-print, the opportunity to run two access hubs in the centres of the nation’s two largest cities is a major achievement and a significant boost over the geographic and demographic spread of legal deposit access in other parts of the UK.
Notes and References
(1) Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, is the sixth legal deposit library in the UK-Ireland legal deposit system