The Oriental Hotel in Kobe

Foreboding storm clouds gather in this atmospheric view of the Oriental Hotel, taken from our exhibition of Japanese postcards on Capital Collections.

The Oriental Hotel, KobeThe Oriental Hotel is one of the oldest and most famous hotels in Japan. It also has one of the most bizarre and difficult histories.

The hotel opened in 1870 in the Kobe Settlement, a self-governing district. Kobe was the area where foreigners stayed and settled; the Japanese could not enter. Kobe Settlement was designed by British civil engineer J.W. Hart and constructed on the basis of modern European city planning. It was praised as the most beautiful and well-planned area in Asia.

The hotel was first built at number 79, then moved to number 80 in 1888. The building was burned down by fire in the 1890s but rebuilt at number 6 on the seafront, (as shown in the postcard dated 1907). This building was destroyed by a bomb attack during World War II in 1945, before being reconstructed at the same place.

The hotel moved to number 25 during the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964. Disaster struck again in 1995 when the building was destroyed by a huge earthquake . However, it was once again rebuilt and reopened in 2010.

The postcard offers a nostalgic view of the past to foreign eyes but for the Japanese, who could not enter this area, the hotel represented a different world from their daily lives.

Discover many more fascinating views of Japan during the first half of the 20th century in our Japanese Postcards exhibition.

Lindsey Davis double bill!

Fans of ancient Rome-based crime fiction are in for a treat as ‘Falco’ creator Lindsey Davis join us for a double bill of Mayday events.

Lindsey has won a legion of admirers on both side of the Atlantic with her series charting the adventures of Marcus Didius Falco, the laid-back Roman ‘informer’ who investigates crimes and acts as an often reluctant imperial agent.

More recently Falco’s adopted daughter, troubled teenager turned feisty widow Flavia Albia, has come to the fore, as the protagonist in last year’s The Ides of April and this year’s Enemies at home.

Book now for our free Edinburgh Reads event with Lindsey at Central Library on Thursday 1st May from 7.00pm.

Earlier on that day Lindsey will be at Leith Library to talk about A Cruel Fate, her ‘Quick Reads’ novel based on real events during the English Civil War.

‘Quick Reads’ are short, easy to read books which are great for adults who are less confident in their reading skills. Lindsey is the latest big name author to be asked to contribute to the series.

If you’d like to find out more about this event, which starts at 10.30am, call 0131 529 5517.

How do animals prevent and treat disease?

Capuchins use smelly plants to prevent insect bites:

A fascinating exhibition, showing other ways the animal kingdom prevents and treats infection and disease, goes on show in Central Library from tomorrow.

Learn about how chimps use rolled up leaves to remove gut parasites; how honey bees treat infection in their hive and how humans commonly use the environment in which they live to treat and/or prevent infection, whether treating nettle rash with dock leaves or taking Aspirin – a drug originally developed from Meadowsweet.

The exhibition is on until Tuesday 15th April and there’s a related activity trail taking place in the Zoo on Wednesday between 10am and 4pm, which is free with Zoo admission.

Part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival, in partnership with the University of St Andrews and RZSS Edinburgh Zoo.

A souvenir from between the wars

Capital Collections’ new mini exhibition provides an interesting snapshot in time of one of the most important places in the political landscape of 20th century Europe:  the Armistice Clearing deep in the Compiegne Forest in France where it was decided the hostilities should cease on the Western Front.

The happenings there in the early hours of 11th November 1918 brought peace to Europe but ultimately set into motion a series of events which would scar the face of the continent for years to come.

As it became clear the Allied Forces were to be victorious in the Great War the question of where to negotiate and ultimately sign an armistice became a pressing one. The responsibility for obtaining an armistice agreement was entrusted to Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Commander in Chief of the Allied armies.

It was decided that negotiations would take place on a remote railway line in the Forest of Compiegne in Picardy.  This lonely outpost was chosen to maintain secrecy as the armistice was pressing yet fragile and if negotiations failed fighting would continue.  Moreover, Foch knew that public opinion may be against the move. Many saw it as weak and unnecessary to give any concessions to an all but defeated German force. The Armistice Clearing, Compiegne Forest, general view

The opposing delegations met in Foch’s luxury railway carriage.  Terms were offered which would be devastating to Germany. Amongst other sanctions, Alsace and Lorraine were to be handed to the French, the entire naval fleet was to be surrendered to the allies and Germany was commanded to pay huge monetary reparations to France. In short, Germany was to accept all responsibility for the conflict. Just after 5 am on the morning of November 11th 1918 it was done.

Foch, without shaking the hand of his opponents, left immediately to take the armistice to Paris. He would later say ‘This is not Peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.’ This statement proved prophetic as it was in 1939 that World War Two broke out to devastate Europe anew.

After peace returned to the French countryside the once inconsequential clearing in Compiegne became an important location for the French people. It became a memorial to the deed. Monuments were erected to Foch himself, to the peoples of Alsace and Lorraine and to the destruction of the German power. The site on which the train stood that fateful day was marked out for posterity.  Later the carriage itself was returned to the spot and an ornate carriage house was built around it to serve as a small museum.Foch's railway car, in which the armistice was signed, The Armistice Clearing, Compiegne Forest

However the clearing’s role in history was not over.  In 1940 France was once again threatened by German Forces and quickly fell to the might of the Reich. Hitler, who had been a soldier in WW1, sought to humiliate the French at the very place Foch had humiliated the German people in 1918. The French surrender was signed in the carriage which was then taken to Germany as a victor’s trophy.  The monuments were dismantled and the carriage house razed to the ground. All that remained was the sculpture of Foch to eternally survey the desolation of the shrine to his greatest achievement.

Today the Armistice clearing has been restored to some of its former glory. Monument stones stolen by the Nazis have been returned and a new carriage house encloses a perfect replica of the original train, which was burned by SS soldiers in 1945.

View the full exhibition on Capital Collections. 

Reading Rainbows at Muirhouse Library

reading rainbows

Children from Forthview Primary school celebrate the start of Reading Rainbows 2014 with storyteller Mara Menzies.


The children visibly had a lot of fun looking at their new books but the cutting and sharing of the cake came a very close second!


This year, over 1000 4-year olds across the city will get a free book pack and hopefully, take part in Reading Rainbows events in libraries and Early Years’ Settings.

Central Library update

Central Library as you've never seen it before!

Central Library as you’ve never seen it before! The home for the new Music Library (upstairs) and Edinburgh and Scottish Collection (lower level)

We’ll soon have all Central Library’s services under one roof for the first time in forty years, with a great new children’s library, a more accessible modern music library and a new-look Edinburgh and Scottish Library.

Here are those all important opening dates:

The Children’s Library will cease operating from its current location on Wednesday 7th May. The new Children’s Library will open in the main Central Library building on Thursday 15th May.

The Music Library will cease operating from its current location on Saturday 19th April. The new Music Library will open on the mezzanine level of Central Library on Thursday 15th May.

The Edinburgh and Scottish Collection will reopen on the week beginning 28th April.

Keep up to date and view more behind the scenes pics on Facebook and Twitter.

Scott vs Zombies at Stockbridge Library

Scott and the Zombie small

All photographs by Gareth Timms

Watch out! Scott Davidson  - inspiration for Alan Grant and Robin Smith’s Scott vs Zombies comic book – narrowly evades an unexpected guest at last night’s special Autism Awareness Day event at Stockbridge Library.

Thankfully our zombie was sufficiently pacified to help out with an auction of work by comic artist Robin Smith – raising lots of money to support people with autism.


A huge thanks to Scott, his mum Liz, Artlink, Councillor Ricky Henderson and everyone else who helped make this such a fun, informative and successful event.

IMG_9176 Councillor H SD Zombie small

Artlink is an arts and disability organisation based in Edinburgh with over 25 years experience of providing developmental activity for people with experience of disability.

Scott vs Zombies was a collaboration between Artlink, Scott, his mum Liz, writer Alan Grant and artist Robin Smith. The comic book aims to raise awareness of autism and get the message across that ‘it is okay to just be yourself’.

The event was held as part of Autism Edinburgh‘s support for World Autism Awareness Day.

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Art exhibition this April

April 14 A3 Fine Art
This month’s exhibition in the Art Library is a collection of paintings by Newton Ross.
Although largely self-taught, Newton attended Leith School of Art in Edinburgh, where his main interest was studying the figure. Originally from Greenock he has spent many years enjoying city life in Edinburgh. In 2007, with his partner and their dog, he moved outside the city centre and now lives in Midlothian.

Newton is currently working on a new body of work and will be exhibiting in Edinburgh and the Lothians in the coming months.

The exhibition will run until April 30.

Five remarkable stories for Autism Awareness Day

The reason I jump by Naoki Higishida

Written by Naoki Higishida when he was only 13, this incredible book explains the often baffling behaviour of autistic children and shows the way they think and feel – such as about the people around them, time and beauty, noise, and themselves. Naoki abundantly proves that autistic people do possess imagination, humour and empathy, but also makes clear, with great poignancy, how badly they need our compassion, patience and understanding.

Dear Miss Landau by James Christie

James Christie is a Scot with Apserger syndrome. Juliet Landau stars in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This is the true story of their friendship.

Mary and Max

This claymation-animated movie starring the recently departed Phillip Seymour Hoffman charts the correspondence between an eight-year-old girl living in the suburbs of Melbourne, with her alcoholic mother and inattentive father, and an obese 40-something Jewish New Yorker prone to panic attacks. The only thing the two have in common is their friendlessness and profound sense of alienation. Based on real events spanning continents and decades, this is a highly original, very funny and deeply moving piece of work.

A friend like Henry by Nuala Gardner

Determined that her autistic son, Dale, should live a fulfilling life, Nuala Gardner describes her despair after being repeatedly let down by the authorities. But their lives were transformed when they welcomed a golden retriever into the family and found that the bond between Dale and his dog helped him to produce the breakthrough they sought. There’s a sequel: All because of Henry

All cats have Asperger syndrome by Kathy Hoopmann

This book draws parallels between children with Asperger syndrome and the behaviour of cats, illustrating shared characteristics and evoking the difficulties and joys of raising a child who is different.

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Ayako Kobayashi’s internship at Central Library

Last year, Japanese student Ayako Kobayashi was studying Italian Renaissance Art at the University of Edinburgh. She loved European art so much, that she had decided to quit her job to study in the UK. Edinburgh was an ideal place for her to both study art history and enjoy student life and she soon fell in love with the beautiful city.

For one part of her course, she had the chance to have an internship but she worried about her English skills and whether she could fulfil her work responsibilities in a foreign environment. (On returning to Japan, she’s since noticed that she is sometimes viewed as a foreigner in her own country!)

The Central Library offered her the chance to research a particularly prized item in their Special Collections – an old album, filled with Japanese postcards printed almost 100 years ago.

Fuji from Fuji-kawaShe did not imagine that she would see such an old Japanese thing in Edinburgh. It aroused her curiosity because the album was full of mysteries. For example, it was believed that it belonged to the Henry Dyer Collection, but there nothing to suggest why this assumption had been made. Ayako enlisted the help of many people to help her catalogue the album and find out the true owner.

You can see the results of her research in an exhibition on Capital Collections. Ayako has chosen beautiful postcards so that viewer can enjoy seeing Japan like a traveller 100 years ago.


Ayako would like to thank Dr. Claudia Hopkins, Hil Wiliamson, Brenda Woods, Clare Padgett and Dr. Rosina Buckland and staff of the Art Library who gave her the chance to research the album. She is also grateful to Professor Hiromich Hosoma, Kjeld Duits, Izumi Ito and Professor Kaoru Kojima who advised her about old Japanese postcards. She would also like to extend her thanks to Professor Masami Kita and Robin Hunter who helped her research Henry Dyer and his children.

Archives searchroom temporary closure

Convention of Royal Burghs 3 Apr 1552

Convention of Royal Burghs 3 Apr 1552

A message from our colleagues at Edinburgh City Archives:

Due to a refurbishment programme Edinburgh City Archives public searchroom shall be closed from Monday 31st March 2014.

We intend to re-open on Tuesday 22nd April 2014 but before travelling we would advise everyone to contact the City Archives on 0131 529 4616 or for up to date advice.

The Road to the Referendum

Want to know more before the historic vote? Here are a couple of items which might be of interest.

First, film of last week’s Edinburgh Reads independence debate with Andrew Ferguson (author of “Scots who enlightened the world”), Scottish Poetry Library founder Tessa Ransford, former Labour MP Maria Fyfe and Craig Smith (author of “The Mile”) – chaired by Professor Alistair McCleery of Edinburgh Napier University.

Second, a free four week “Road to the Referendum” course, facilitated by experienced teacher and adult tutor Alex Wood.

The course offers the opportunity to consider the history, politics, culture and literature – as well as hard facts and statistics – which should inform the debate leading to the referendum on Scottish independence.

Every Wednesday for 4 weeks, starting on 21st May. Booking essential.

Portobello Library, 10.30am – 12.30pm
Booking: or 0131 529 5558

Morningside Library, 6.00 – 8.00pm
Booking: or 0131 529 5654

Planes, trains and horse-drawn trams

Trams have once again been sighted on the streets of Edinburgh and so, what better opportunity to delve into our archives to find out how the citizens of Edinburgh got about town in centuries past.
Corporation Bus Princes StreetNot so very long ago, our ancestors had to rely on their own two feet or horse-power to travel. A succession of developments in transport benefited not only trade and industry, but also gave people the means to escape the city to the seaside, countryside or suburbia.

Our latest story on Our Town Stories, Edinburgh by road, rail and waterway, is your historical passport to getting around town.

Words and Deeds: Women, Warfare and Caregiving

Elsie Inglis

That’s the title of an exhibition and associated events taking place at Craigmillar Library over the next few weeks, in association with our friends at Surgeons’ Hall Museum.

Call Craigmillar Library on 0131 529 5597 or email for details about the following free talks:

The Remarkable Elsie Inglis and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals
Upon offering to set up women’s medical units on the Western Front, Elsie Inglis was told by officials ‘my good lady, go home and sit still’. However, the courageous Dr Inglis did not go home. Instead she formed one of the most successful medical initiatives of WWI.
With Mr Iain Macintyre, Monday 31st March at 6pm

Bandage the Tommy
With Yvonne McEwen of The Centre  for The Study of Modern Conflict, The University of Edinburgh. Saturday 12th April at 1pm

Mary Seacole, forgotten hero?
With Ms Chris Short of Surgeons’ Hall Museum. Monday 7th April at 6pm

Letters home
Journal making with Susie Wilson and Emma Black. Saturday 19th April at 1pm

Referendum reading and writing

Don’t worry if you weren’t one of the lucky people who managed to snap up a ticket for last night’s Independence Debate at Central Library.

We’ll be posting video of the event on our YouTube channel very soon.

You might also be interested in Write around our referendum, a free six week course exploring articles, poems, stories and media coverage relating to the referendum and independence debate.

Or if you can’t commit the time we’re hosting a half day session considering the background issues, hard facts and statistics surrounding the independence question.

Other useful links:

BBC Scottish Independence referendum library

Scotland’s Future (white paper)

What Scotland thinks

Referendum reading from the library

The people who helped shape Edinburgh Libraries: David Mather Masson

Our series of blog posts about our principal library benefactors continues with David Mather Masson, literary scholar, biographer and editor. Masson was born on the 7th December, 1822 in Aberdeen. He graduated from Marischal College in 1839 with a Masters of Arts degree and although intended for the ministry he chose the literary life instead.

He worked with the publishing firm W & R Chambers before moving to London in 1847 where he became friends with many literary figures including the Rossettis and Charles Dickens.  He was appointed Professor of English Language and Literature at the University College London in 1852.

Returning to Scotland in 1865 he was appointed Regius Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature at Edinburgh University, a post he held until 1895. He was named Historiographer Royal for Scotland in 1893.

In 1853 he married Emily Rosaline Orme, a campaigner for women’s suffrage. He was active in the Edinburgh Association for the University Education of Women and in recognition of his work Edinburgh University’s first residence for women students was named Masson Hall in his honour.

Professor Masson was one of the leading lights in the campaign to open the first public library in Edinburgh assisting in the negotiations which led to the foundation of the Central Library. He served on the first Public Libraries Committee and the sub-Committee on Branch Libraries helping to found Fountainbridge, Stockbridge, Portobello, MacDonald Road and Morningside libraries.

Foundation stone laying of Central Library

His best known work is his book The “Life of John Milton which was considered the most authoritative work on Milton of his time. 

David Mather Masson died on the 6th October 1907. His wife and daughters respected his wish that no-one should write his biography or publish his letters.

Catch up with the previous posts in this series about the characters who helped shape Edinburgh Libraries here:

Henry Dyer: engineer, educationist and Japanophile

Robert Butchart: City Librarian and Old Edinburgh enthusiast

Charles Boog Watson: antiquarian and ARP warden

William McEwan: brewer and philanthropist

Lesley Glaister at Morningside Library

little egypt“a sparkling miniaturist, social comedian and dauntless urban poet” Julie Myerson

Chosen and Nina Todd has gone author Lesley Glaister will be reading from her new novel Little Egypt at Morningside Library this Thursday (20th March) at 6.30pm.

Looping between the 1920s and the present day, Little Egypt is a beautifully-observed novel about the loss of innocence, parental neglect and the eternal human quest to ‘belong’. By turns poignantly humorous, deeply moving and mysterious, it also evokes the wonder and majesty of Howard Carter’s Egypt on the cusp of Western discovery. This enormously accomplished novel took twenty years to come to fruition: it is well worth the wait.

Winner of the Somerset Maugham, Betty Trask and Yorkshire Post Author of the Year prizes, Glaister’s work has also been on numerous literary award short and longlists over the years, and several of her dramas have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

To book a free place at this event email or call 0131 529 5654.