July 14: National Library of Scotland

After spending two lovely weeks in England, we moved north on Sunday and went to Edinburgh, Scotland. It was a pretty long coach ride to get there, but once we saw the scenery it was well worth it.

This was a view from the rest stop. Not even a scenic  stop, just a rest stop!

This was a view from the rest stop. Not even a scenic stop, just a rest stop!

We stayed on Edinburgh University’s campus, which was also really picturesque.

Walking around campus, and you can see a castle.

Walking around campus, and you can see a castle.

On Monday morning, we went to the National Library of Scotland. It’s a large building in the center of the city, and it looks modern and inviting. We had four guides: David McClay, the John Murray Archive Curator; Beverley Casebow, the Library Education & Outreach Officer; Veronica Denholm, the Library Education & Outreach Officer; and Koen Van der Staeten, the Planning Officer. They were all very welcoming and informative in their tour that they gave us.

As with all libraries located in a city, they have an issue with space. Their solution was to have their building have 15 floors. The majority of the floors are below street level because the entrance is on the 11th floor. The lower floors consist of books and staff space. When we entered the building, I was struck by how welcoming they had tried to make it. There is a cafe space and gift shop where anyone can stop to eat or shop.

They also have their John Murray Archive exhibit on the entrance floor. It is an exhibit space that was one of the coolest ones I have seen in a library. Most libraries have a certain format that they tend to follow when they create exhibits. This exhibit smashed all of the boring, tired conventions for the ways in which information and items are usually exhibited. They had the room kept very dark in order to keep the items in the best shape possible. The best way I can describe the way the exhibits are kept is to say that they were encased in numerous, separate tall glass coverings that looked like the glass cover that goes over the rose in Beauty and the Beast. Each exhibit is about one person which makes it very easy to follow. Within the glass, there’s a costume and various items associated with the person. They had cases on Lord Byron, Caroline Lamb (his illicit lover), Washington Irving, Charles Darwin, and a handful more. Beside the glass, they had a touch screen that would cycle through the items in the case and tell you about them. They also hired actors to read things like letters or poems. The lights would light up to focus on the exhibit when you touched the screen. Also, the voice would speak just loud enough for you to hear, but not loud enough to disturb any of the other visitors. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed, but it was truly one of the most innovative and interesting exhibits I have seen.

This exhibit definitely made me think about what goes into creating an exhibit. Beyond that, it also made me think about what goes into creating an exhibit that people want to see. I have had to create exhibits before, and I found it very fun. I was very happy with the way it turned out, and people generally seemed to like it. However, there really is an art to what they are doing with the archive at this library. I can only imagine how much fun it would be to sift through all of that material and create these exhibits from the most interesting things. It would definitely be a lot of hard work and a lot of attention to detail, but at the end you truly get to see your hard work pay off. No matter what library you are in, you will probably have to do an exhibit or display at some point in time, which made this visit extra interesting. It really showed me how you can dazzle the crowd with your exhibit by just thinking outside the box.

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