The story of Edinburgh Libraries. Part 1 of 3

Original Architectural Drawing of Central Library

Original Architectural Drawing of Central Library

On 9 June 1890 the doors to the first public library in Edinburgh opened to the public.

In the run up to our 125th anniversary we’ll take a look at some of the significant developments which have taken place over that time.

Andrew Carnegie layse the foundation stone of the Edinburgh Free Library

Andrew Carnegie lays the foundation stone of the Edinburgh Free Library

Edinburgh was the last Scottish city to adopt the Public Libraries Act doing so in 1886 when Andrew Carnegie donated £50,000 to the city to build a free library. Building commenced in 1887 and was completed in 1890. The building was designed by architect George Washington Browne in a French Renaissance style.

‘Let there be light’ is carved above the entrance; something Carnegie insisted should appear on all libraries he funded. Other notable features on the building’s facade include three large roundels depicting the coat of arms of the City of Edinburgh, the arms of Scotland and the royal arms. Nine small square reliefs run along the building relating to the history of printing in Scotland.

One of nine small square reliefs on the exterior of Edinburgh Central Library

One of nine small square reliefs on the exterior of Edinburgh Central Library

The library opened with three departments: Reference, Lending and the Newsroom. Hew Morrison was appointed principal librarian in 1887. In his 34 years in post he was responsible for developing central library and five branch libraries.  A bequest of £50,000 from publisher Thomas Nelson in 1891 funded the development of branches at Dundee Street (1897), Stockbridge (1900), McDonald Road (1904) and St Leonards (1914). Morningside opened in 1905.

McDonald Road Library in 1912

McDonald Road Library in 1912

 

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