National Library to digitise 24 million items

National Librarian Dr John Scally with a copy of the new strategy.'' Picture: National Library of Scotland
National Librarian Dr John Scally with a copy of the new strategy.'' Picture: National Library of Scotland
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CENTURIES of Scottish knowledge is to be made available online for the first time under plans to digitise a third of the National Library of Scotland’s archive.

The library will put a third of its collection of 24 million items online over the next ten years, in one of the biggest programmes of its kind anywhere in Europe.

The move will offer a worldwide audience a gateway to information on Scottish culture and history, to view unique documents including manuscripts of writers such as Robert Burns and Walter Scott, thousands of films on life in Scotland, and memorabilia from last year’s independence referendum.

The library’s long-term aim is to make as much material digitally available as possible, subject to restrictions imposed by copyright or conditions set by publishers.

This includes not only precious manuscripts, rare books, maps, sound archives, e-books and journals, but business information, databases and other content that will contribute to economic growth and social wellbeing.

“The internet has created a revolution in how people expect to be able to access information,” said National librarian Dr John Scally.

“We want people to be able to connect to our collections from wherever they are, rather than having to consult material in the library as has been the case for most of our existence.”

Despite the digital developments, Dr Scally stressed that the physical book and the library will continue to play a central role in its plans.

The library already has a strong online presence and has digitised a number of its items, including the last letter of Mary Queen of Scots, the order for the massacre of Glencoe, the first books printed in Scotland in the 16th century, the first atlas of Scotland and First World War official photographs.

It has seen traffic to its website double in the past five years to more than three 
million visits annually.

Dr Scally said: “At no time in our history has it been easier to share the story of Scotland with a global audience.

“At no time has it been as possible to reach out beyond our buildings to provide services to people living in every part of Scotland.

“This new strategy seeks to harness technological developments to achieve the central aim of the National Library – to provide access to knowledge that is inspiring, accessible and relevant to anyone, whether living in or interested in Scotland.”