A National Treasure

Last week I paid a visit to the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, and I was reminded, not only of the important role Scotland  played in the creation of the modern world, but how fortunate we are to have access to one of the most important research libraries in Europe. I wonder though how many teachers are aware of the free resources which the NLS provides, both in the building and online. In the Learning Zone, teachers and pupils can explore a huge range of topics from the worlds of Literature, Geography, History, Politics, Exploration, Science and Technology. Free, downloadable resources are available, all of them specially designed to help learners interact with the library’s unique collections. The Ideas Factory provides advice on ‘Thinking Like a Writer’, shows young writers how stories are put together, and takes them through the process of storytelling step by step.

In 2006, the Library acquired the archive of the publishing house John Murray, one of the world’s great collections of literary manuscripts. Charles Darwin, Lord Byron, Jane Austen and David Livingstone are just four of the famous historical figures whose stories are brought to life through a combination of original correspondence and modern technology. Visitors to the exhibition can see a recreation of the fireplace in Albemarle Street where John Murray II famously burned the memoirs of Lord Byron, as well as the letter in which Darwin pitched the idea for On the Origin of Species (see also the John Murray Archive app for the iPhone).

Just as important to generations of Scots, the NLS is home to the only complete collection of Oor Wullie annuals. The famous DC Thomson comic strip character, who is 75 this year, has hardly changed since he first appeared in the Sunday Post on 8th March 1936 on the streets of Auchenshoogle, a fictional hybrid of Glasgow and Dundee, where the publishing house was based; the collection was completed as recently as 2010 when the library secured the only two books published in the war years, in 1940 and 1940 respectively, for the modest price of £4000.

Just as entertaining, and of huge cultural significance, is the Scottish Screen Archive, a wonderful record of the nation’s past depicted on film, and looked after by the National Library in its specially-adapted storage facility in Hillington near Glasgow. The archive preserves over a hundred years of history on film and video. A recent partnership project between the National Library, Creative Scotland and Learning and Teaching Scotland has already made over 15 hours worth of short clips  available to teachers via the Scotland on Screen website. Here, as well as simply watching the films, teachers and pupils are able to download, create and upload new material to Glow as films or moving image essays. The material has been selected and tagged for its relevance to the Scottish curriculum. If you haven’t seen it before, I recommend you go there now. It may be some time before you re-emerge. Have fun.

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