Public given chance to visit Scotland’s “original” national library

19 Sep


The National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh is one of the country’s gems, used and visited by thousands of people.

Many perhaps do not realise, however, that, literally through the wall, lies another great institution, the Advocates Library, which is where it all began for “the National”.

Normally off limits to the public, there will be a chance this weekend to see inside the Advocates Library, including the former courtroom where Burke and Hare were tried, when it takes part in Doors Open Day.

Founded in 1689, the Advocates Library did not collect only legal texts. It had legal deposit status, giving the Keeper of the Library – a position held by such luminaries as Thomas Ruddiman, David Hume and Adam Ferguson - the right to claim a copy of every book published in the British Isles, and it amassed an extensive collection of general literature.

Its first catalogue in 1692 showed a stock of some 3,000 books. By the 1770s, there were more than 30,000 volumes and the figure doubled by the early years of the 19th century, and continued to rise.

In effect, the Advocates Library became a national library, described by Thomas Carlyle, the historian and biographer, as “incomparably the best of all the libraries we have in Scotland”.

But for a small body like the Faculty of Advocates, maintaining such a collection was difficult and, in 1925, the Faculty gifted to the nation 750,000 non-legal books, pamphlets, maps and sheet music, and the National Library of Scotland was established.

The Advocates Library, within Parliament House, continues to serve the Faculty’s members and, with more than 150,000 volumes, is widely regarded as the finest working law library in the UK.

“Working on a daily basis in the Advocates Library is a privilege,” said Gordon Jackson, QC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates.

“The reaction of people seeing it for the first time reminds you of this, and I hope that those who come along on Doors Open Day will enjoy their visit very much.”

Timed tours of the Advocates Library for small groups will take place from 10:15am to 3:30pm on Saturday, 24 September, and visitors are advised to book a place on a tour as they arrive in Parliament House, which is also taking part in Doors Open Day. Among events organised by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service is a re-enactment of the 19th century Madeleine Smith murder trial.