A stitch in time – WEA tapestry commemorates Central Library’s history

Today at Edinburgh Central Library, we are celebrating the completion and display of a tapestry marking our 125th anniversary. The Workers’ Educational Association Stitching Times group embroidered the tapestry. They began work in the autumn of 2015 – the 125th anniversary year of the opening of the library.

Central Library – 125 years in stitch

Founded in 1903, the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) is a charity dedicated to bringing high quality, professional education into the heart of communities. WEA are the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of adult education. Their goal is to widen participation in education and they are committed to education with a social purpose.

Archie Campbell, WEA Area Education Manager says:

“The WEA’s Scottish headquarters is in Edinburgh and we have been very fortunate to have built up a strong and mutually beneficial relationship with Edinburgh Central Library. This partnership goes back several decades and is one WEA feel privileged to be involved in and are keen to nurture and develop. Learners circumstances, learning requirements and the ways they learn (in particular the use of I.T.) change over the years but the WEA will always look to work closely with Central Library to ensure learners are able to access high quality adult education opportunities in a friendly and welcoming environment. The beautiful tapestry the WEA Stitching Times group have produced is fitting testament to this and we are absolutely delighted it is to take pride of place at the library and be viewed by so many library users and visitors.”

Rebecca Mackay, who leads the Stitching Times group added:

“The WEA Stitching Times group began about six years ago with a project for the Museum of Edinburgh, and we call ourselves Stitching Times because our community projects over the years have had an historic connection which we not only stitched into a visual expression but also researched. Our group has its work in the collections of the Museum of Edinburgh – notably in conjunction with their Maude Pentland archive – and on display at Riddles Court. Our commemoration tapestries for the Women of World War One have been exhibited across the country at numerous Library and WEA events. It was a great honour when the Central Library and the WEA approached us with a request to develop an embroidered tapestry celebrating 125 years of Edinburgh Central Library. We are delighted with its completion. It has been a labour of love by many hands.”

‘EPL’ detail taken the gates at main entrance

The tapestry is on display on the main staircase at Central Library. It shows some fantastic details from the library’s history including Daisy Carnegie, the library cat, and the only baby born in the library.

The future of libraries

As part of the celebrations to mark the 125th anniversary of Edinburgh City Libraries, we invited a panel of experts to discuss the future of libraries.

A wide ranging and fascinating discussion covered Google, ebooks, the media, reading habits, information literacy and more. If you’ve any interest in the future of libraries this film of the event is well worth a few minutes of your time.

Speakers taking part:

John Scally – (National Librarian and Chief Executive)

Philippa Cochrane – (Scottish Book Trust, Reader Development)

Prof. Hazel Hall – (Napier University- Professor of Social Informatics – information sharing in online environments)

Duncan Wright – Senior School Librarian at Stewart’s Melville College

Chaired by Marion Sinclair -, Chief Executive, Publishing Scotland

‘Design a birthday cake’ competition winners

Tayo (age 9)

Wester Hailes, Sighthill & Ratho Libraries celebrated 125 years of Edinburgh Libraries with some help from local children, as together we received over 250 entries for our ‘design a birthday cake’ competition.


Patrick (age 5)

The colourful entries included some very imaginative designs, many featuring books and people reading.

Brogan (age 11) Sighthill Winner

Brogan (age 11) Sighthill Winner

There were rainbow arches, multi-tiered showstoppers and flavour combinations that might challenge top pastry-chefs (including ‘carrot & strawberry’, ‘grapes’ & more traditional ‘chocolate & sprinkles’)!

Iona (age 7) Ratho Winner

Iona (age 7) Ratho Winner

The winners representing each branch are Oliwier (aged 8, Canal View Primary P4B), Brogan (aged 11, Sighthill Primary P6) and Iona (aged 7, Ratho Primary P3).  Each will be getting a goody-bag of prizes.  Congratulations to them and thanks to everyone who took part. Here’s to the next 125 years!


Oliwier (age 8) Wester Hailes Winner

More library staff instructions from days gone by

As promised in an earlier post here are more rules for library staff from yesteryear. First, a cunning method for catching out bogus ‘art students’.

art dept0006

And these weren’t the only suspicious types to watch out for. We think the following missive probably dates from the war.


And whatever you do, don’t mention the blacklist:


We’ll finish with this message from a former city librarian. Wonder how long this system lasted?


If you missed the first part of this series you can catch up here.

masthead quiz

The story of Edinburgh Libraries. Part 3 of 3

From one public library in 1890 there are now 28 branches across the city each providing an important service to the community. As well as providing access to information, libraries soon became places to gather and attend events.

Edinburgh’s newest libraries at Drumbrae and Craigmillar have developed this idea with the library housed in a community hub where members of the community can also access other council services.


Drumbrae Library Hub

Craigmillar Library

East Neighbourhood Centre and Craigmillar Library

There’s always been more to the library than books on shelves. In Edinburgh, libraries have played host to some great events and celebrations over the years.  The recent development of Edinburgh Reads has seen numerous author events take place across the city.

Story hour at McDonald Road Library

Story hour at McDonald Road Library, 1962



Ian Rankin and Jeffery Deaver at an Edinburgh Reads event

On opening the library’s catalogue was listed in books. Technology has come a long way since then.  Computerisation came in 1974 when Central Fiction began lending through an offline system. Public internet access was introduced in 1998 and now all libraries have WiFi. Readers can also access services through a mobile app and a growing collection of electronic resources and e-books are accessible online and through mobile devices.

Public access internet launch in Central Library

Public access internet launch in Central Library

Brodie's Close, Lawnmarket, Edinburgh

Brodie’s Close, Lawnmarket, Edinburgh. Reproduction of Bruce J. Home pencil drawing from ‘Old Houses in Edinburgh’. One of the many treasures you can find on Capital Collections.

Over the years, a number of donations have helped shape the special collections held by Edinburgh Libraries. Particular highlights of this collection include the Henry Dyer Collection of Japanese woodblock prints, woodblock printed volumes and painted scrolls; the personal items bequeathed by Charles Boog Watson. Robert Butchart and Thomas Ross as well as an extensive collection of early photography documenting Victorian Edinburgh.

Many of these items form the backbone of Capital Collections, our online image database.

Find out how much you know about Edinburgh Libraries with this quick, fun quiz

masthead quiz


The story of Edinburgh Libraries. Part 2 of 3

In 1922 Dr Ernest Savage took over as principal librarian and transformed the service in almost every aspect.  He introduced direct access to the books for the public (something previously forbidden). The Library of Congress Classification system was introduced and the specialist departments of Music and Fine Art were established.

Other branches continued to appear across the city with Leith opening in 1932, Colinton in 1934 and Corstorphine 1936.

Leith Library

Leith Library, 1932

Central Library, Reference Department

Central Library, Reference Department, 1932

Libraries took to the roads with the introduction of the first mobile service in Scotland in 1949 serving areas without permanent library buildings.

The reach of the library also increased with the introduction of a housebound service in 1964 through cooperation with WRVS volunteers. A library link service was launched in 1992 providing transport to and from the library for users who, due to physical constraints, would be otherwise unable to visit.

Mobile library at Clermiston_ Morris 5 tonner

Mobile library at Clermiston circa 1955

Housebound readers service inauguration

Housebound readers service inauguration, 1964

Over the years the library service has maintained an archive of its own history and development. Numerous photographs depict the staff at work and also off duty. Plans, drawings and staff registers all help paint a vivid image of the libraries’ history.

Member of staff at the information desk in Central Library

At the information desk in Central Library, 1934

Members of staff pose for a photograph at Central Library's annual staff dance

Central Library Staff Dance, 1936

At work in Edinburgh Public Libraries' Bindery Department

At work in the Bindery, 1955

Find out how much you know about Edinburgh Libraries with this quick, fun quiz

masthead quiz

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


Find out how much you know about Edinburgh Libraries with this quick, fun quiz

masthead quiz

Lost in a good book

exhibitionWhen Mavis started work as a library assistant in central library a few years back one of the tasks she was given was to check returned books for pencil marks and other damage.

While doing this though she came across all sorts of items readers had used as bookmarks and forgot to remove: photographs, business cards, flyers, children’s drawings, train timetables, postcards, wedding invitations….

Mavis asked what to do with these objects. She was told they should be binned. Which she did. For about a week.

“As the rule made no sense to me I ignored it and started to collect them”, Mavis says .

“I didn’t have any sort of plan but something told me that maybe one day even one person could be reunited with a treasured photograph or perhaps a keepsake they thought was lost forever”.

Today is that day.

Many of the items Mavis held onto are the focal point of an exhibition ‘Lost in a good book’, currently on display in Central Library, until 11th June.exhibition 2

Will you see something that looks familiar?

Instructions for library staff – a trip back in time

All workplaces have their rules and procedures for staff, and libraries are no different.

We recently came across some very strange instructions for staff in our archives.

How about this for starters:


Our procedures for new members of staff have changed over the years as well:


And woe betide you if your essay was written in a slovenly hand:


That would be me shelving books then…  though I’d have to treat the dusty ones properly and not be ‘foolish’:


There’s more here, including guidance on dealing with young people. And ‘foreigners’.

125 years of Edinburgh Libraries


“We trust that this Library is to grow in usefulness year after year, and prove one of the most potent agencies for the good of the people for all time to come” – Andrew Carnegie, Edinburgh, 1890.

This year sees the 125th anniversary of Edinburgh’s public library service, and we’re celebrating by looking forward as well as back.

Book now for Future Libraries – the next 125 years  – a panel discussion with National Librarian John Scally, the Scottish Book Trust’s Philippa Cochrane, Professor Hazel Hall of Napier University and Duncan Wright, Librarian at Stewart’s Melville College.

Look out too, for more posts over the next couple of weeks telling the story of Edinburgh’s Libraries. We’ve got some cracking discoveries to share with you.