Edinburgh University Library comes full circle

I was invited back to Edinburgh University Library last Thursday to attend the launch event for the opening of the refurbished Ground Floor – part of a long renovation project that began last year with the opening of its excellent Centre for Research Collections on the upper floors. The library that I left almost two years ago has been beautifully and gracefully transformed. The booklet that was published to celebrate the opening states in its Vision section:

The Library was founded in 1580 when Edinburgh Advocate Clement Litill bequeathed his collection of 276 volumes to the Toun and Kirk of Edinburgh. The University admitted its first students three years later, and the library collections have since become of national and international significance. The University has transformed its Library in significant periods of its history. It created the Playfair Library during the Enlightenment, and in the sixties commissioned Sir Basil Spence to design a new Main Library in George Square – which opened in 1967. The current redevelopment renews the service which supports the intellectual activity of the University.

Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin is one of the University’s most famous contemporary graduates, and he spoke entertainingly at the event. The University has made him the focus of a short video on the revamped Library, which features him being shown round by Director of Library Services Sheila Cannell. Rankin talks of the shock of arriving at the library for the first time as an undergraduate coming from a small Scottish town and a comprehensive school. That shock is a more pleasant one now. My wife studied at Edinburgh at the same time as Rankin, and remembers him from the literary society. She and I could both identify with Rankin’s memories. I recall meeting her in the more forbidding upper floors that are still waiting to be transformed – but we now have two sons studying there who will at least find the Ground Floor beautiful, if this review is typical of student reaction.

I am very impressed with the artwork that features in the redevelopment, not least the Interleaved series of 100 mesostics by the artist Alec Finlay. Created in collaboration with staff and students, these are based on books in the Library, and have been affixed to shelf-ends and produced as bookmarks. The one included in my booklet was based on Death in Venice and reads con-men and decadent invalids. Cut into paving stones at the front entrance is the title poem Interleaved mesostic circle poem (for a library) which has been produced from the source text Thair to Reman, the foundational wish of Clement Litill.

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