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National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division

Brief History

Before the National Library of Scotland, there was the Library of the Faculty of Advocates. Founded in the early 1680s, the Advocates Library in Edinburgh was formally opened in 1689. Under the 1710 Copyright Act it was given the legal right to claim a copy of every book published in Britain. In the following centuries, the Library added books and manuscripts to the collections by purchase as well as legal deposit. This created a national library in all but name.

By the 1920s, the upkeep of such a major collection was too much for a private body. With an endowment of £100,000 provided by Sir Alexander Grant of Forres, the library’s contents were presented to the nation. The National Library of Scotland was formally constituted by an Act of Parliament in 1925. Sir Alexander Grant gave a further £100,000 – making his combined donations the equivalent of around £6 million today – for a new library building to be built on George IV Bridge. Government funding was secured which matched Sir Alexander’s donation. Work on the new building was started in 1938, interrupted by the Second World War, and completed in 1956. By the 1970s, room for the ever-expanding collections was running out, and it was obvious that other premises were needed.The Causewayside Building opened in the south-side of Edinburgh in two phases, in 1989 and in 1995. At a total cost of almost £50 million, it provided much-needed additional working space and storage facilities. In April 2007 the Scottish Screen Archive became part of the National Library of Scotland. The Screen Archive is Scotland’s moving images archive.

The National Library of Scotland remains one of the only six legal deposit libraries in the United Kingdom and Ireland and it is governed by a board of trustees.

Following the establishment of the National Library of Scotland in 1925, political manuscripts became a major collection area, and the Manuscripts Division has important holdings from the 18th century onwards of the papers of Scottish politicians (eg the Melville, Liston, Minto, Ellice, Rosebery and Haldane papers). The Library has major deposits of national papers from four of the major political parties active in modern Scottish politics. These are the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, the Scottish Green Party, the Scottish Liberal Democrat Party and the Scottish National Party. These papers are augmented by papers of local branches of these parties and of the Labour Party.

The National Library of Scotland has been very active in collecting manuscript and archival material relating to the history of the labour movement in Scotland since 1964. A significant amount of this material has been channelled into the Library through the good offices of the Scottish Labour History Society and more recently through the Scottish Working People’s History Trust. As a result the library holds the finest collection of Scottish labour history held anywhere in the world.


  • Trade unions and co-operatives: major collections include the records of mineworkers, printers, bookbinders, shipwrights, engineers, cabinetmakers, coachmakers, journalists and many other trades, as well as the archives of various co-operatives societies based in the east and south of Scotland.
  • The Labour Party: papers and records of local branches in Edinburgh, Lothian and the Borders.
  • Socialist and left-wing organisations: collections include the papers of the Edinburgh Fabian Society, Edinburgh Socialist Sunday Schools, National Council of Labour Colleges and the Workers’ Educational Association of Scotland.
  • Personal papers of individuals connected with the trade union, co-operative and labour movements: including the papers of Red Clydeside activist John McLean, Christopher M. Grieve (Hugh MacDiarmid), James Keir Hardie, Ramsay MacDonald, George Mathers, Baron Ritchie-Calder, and several Secretaries of State for Scotland under Labour governments.
  • Miscellaneous papers relating to the Spanish Civil War, Socialism in Edinburgh, social history and organisations concerned with the study and advocacy of labour history.

Two source lists, one for modern political manuscripts, and one for the Scottish labour history collections held by the Manuscripts Division of the National Library of Scotland are available online, as are an increasing number of inventories for these collections. Click here for the index to the modern political manuscripts and here for the index to the labour history collections.

Contact Details

National Library of Scotland George IV Bridge
EH1 1EW.

Tel : 0131 623 3876
Web :
Link for OPAC :

Opening Times

Manuscript and archival material is consulted in the Special Materials Reading Room. Opening hours are:

  • Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday: 10:00 to 20:30
  • Wednesday: 10:30 to 20:30
  • Saturday: 9:30 to 13:00

For further details about ordering material, deliveries and facilities see here.


Free admission.


For details about how to get to the National Library of Scotland’s various buildings see here.

Access Details

Details about access and facilities can be obtained from the National Library of Scotland’s webpage.