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Sources for Learning SHELF: Libraries and Learning in the past in Edinburgh, the Lothians and Fife

Most Local History and Archive collections in the Lothians and Fife have some records about libraries and learning in the past in their area. Almost all these bodies have contributed material to the SHELF project.

In addition to the resources on this website, much more was surveyed during the project and can be found on the website of Resources for Learning in Scotland, of which SHELF was just a part. Only a proportion of existing libraries and learning records were selected for inclusion because SHELF looked at the whole idea of self-help. The material that was included can lead back to the original collections held in museums, libraries and archives across the Lothians and Fife.

Other significant collections are held in national institutions. Many records, such as the entire stock and associated records of the Haddington Gray library and the Saltoun Library, have been deposited in the National Library of Scotland. Heriot-Watt University has an important collection relating to its foundation as the Edinburgh School of Arts. However, there are many gaps in existing collections and many records have been irretrievably lost, particularly where they relate to commercial circulation libraries and smaller bodies like model parliamentary societies or ad-hoc organisations like reading groups. Even today, much is still tucked away in cupboards in homes or lying forgotten in halls and clubrooms awaiting discovery.

All the SHELF resources on the RLS database include appropriate references of which there are too many to list here. Those interested in exploring further are encouraged to investigate the full resource dataset.

All the material discussed in this website has come from museum, library and archive collections in the Lothians and Fife. As the project only sampled the holdings of these institutions those interested in exploring further are invited to visit the SHELF partners. The institutions also hold much of the reference material referred to above and much more.

Your local press is often a good source to build a picture of friendly society business and social activities. Many local papers have been microfilmed and are available in local history centres. Directories and annual registers often list organisations, their addresses and office holders.


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