Curator puts himself on the shelf after 34 years

Dr Iain Gordon Brown
Dr Iain Gordon Brown
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DR Iain Gordon Brown, principal curator in manuscript and map collections at the National Library of Scotland, will retire today after 34 years with the institution.

The 60-year-old has spent his career bringing rare manuscripts to the library, playing a significant part in opening it up to the public, and writing extensively on the works kept there.

Born in Durban, South Africa, Dr Brown moved to the UK as a child, growing up in Edinburgh and studying history at Cambridge.

He returned to the Capital and began work as an assistant keeper and rose through the ranks to become principal curator.

During that time he was closely involved with the acquisition of a series of works by Sir Walter Scott from New York in the mid-1980s and became the library’s authority on the great poet and novelist.

Among the hundreds of items and works he wrote during his time was an account of the materials’ return to Scotland.

He said the library had changed from a stuffy archive to an institution popular with students and visitors over the years.

Unlike many scholars, he branched out into many areas of expertise, including architectural and military manuscripts and maps.

Dr Brown said: “It’s become much more open. One of the things that has made my career unusual is the number of different fields I’ve become heavily involved in.

“Over the years I must have helped thousands of scholars. It’s a long time to do one job, at least it would seem like a long time to young people now, but for those who work in a national institution, it is a great privilege.”

Dr Brown met his wife, Patricia, at the library when she was looking for books he already had out on loan.

“I met my wife in the library, we first set eyes on each other in the library and I was intrigued to know who it was who was calling for a lot of books which were already out to me.

“I never expected to get a job in Edinburgh or stay as long, but it gradually took me over and I became more and more intrigued by the extraordinary resources of a collection which has been built up since the 1680s.”

Tonight Dr Brown, who lives in the New Town, will speak at an event to mark his leaving and be presented with a special bound bibliography of his works, which also includes the history of the library itself.

He said he has had the pleasure of working with leading experts, promising students, and some “downright eccentrics”.

Dr Brown has just been made a trustee of Edinburgh World Heritage, which involves conserving and protecting the world’s largest Unesco site, but also intends to spend his days gardening, “having the odd lie-in” and begins his retirement with a Mediterranean cruise.