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Library collection

The scope of the library collection reflects the strengths and variety of the Museums’ collections.

The library does not collect comprehensively, rather the collection has grown in response to individual areas of curatorial research, past and present. It draws on the authority of a collection containing both modern research texts and material over 500 years old. 

Our periodicals collection is extensive, with over 450 titles, plus a further 4,300 e-journals and features journals from a variety of county antiquarian and historical societies; and significant runs of technical journals. Ninety of the journals held in the collection are not found in any other libraries in Scotland.

Browse our library catalogue

Find out more about individual books and journals we hold.

Browse the catalogue
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    Front board with tooled inscription and marbled end paper of Paradise Lost by John Milton, bound by James Scott, 1781.

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    Drawing of Devorgilla Bridge, Dumfries from A collection on antiquities , Vol. 7, page 107, by Robert Riddell of Glenriddell.

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    Sketchbook of William Martin, Scottish National Antarctic Expedition 1903.

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    Mocking bird, Birds of America Plates, by John James Audubon.

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    Felis Canadensis from A monograph of the Felidae or family of the cats, by Daniel Giraud Elliot, 1883.

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Subject coverage


The library’s holdings form a leading archaeology collection with comprehensive coverage of Scottish material; it is especially significant in its breadth and in its foreign-language material, much of which is unavailable elsewhere in Scotland. In Egyptology and Classical archaeology, the collection includes early to mid-twentieth century excavation reports and key works of scholarship.

European and world-wide decorative arts

Major collections of monograph publications including ceramics, silverwork, textiles and sculpture. Numismatics coverage includes Britain, Europe and the Ancient World.  Middle Eastern art, Chinese, Japanese and Oriental arts are especially noteworthy.  Ethnographic coverage includes West African, Oceanic and North American material culture.

Scottish history and culture

Topographical guides and local histories from all parts of Scotland from the late 18th century onwards, many of which are rare and unusual items.

Natural sciences

There is a good selection of material to support historical geological research, gemmology, mineralogy (including older material on systematic mineralogy) invertebrate and vertebrate palaeontology. Zoology holdings are primarily taxonomic works, but there is also coverage of the history of the natural sciences and zoological illustration.  The collection incorporates several notable libraries such as those of J.A. Harvie-Brown and A.E. Salisbury (Mollusca, primarily pre-1850 works).

History of science and technology

The collection is strong in physical and mathematical sciences, including measurement applications in a variety of disciplines and developments in related technologies. The collection includes biography, the history of production techniques, manufacture, distribution and trade economics. Other areas of subject coverage include industrial and civil engineering transport, photography, agriculture and social history, plus some unique trade literature. 


Major collection of works on the history of museums and museology, including many early works on personal and institutional collections.

Military history

A collection of over 11,000 volumes (both monographs and journals) concentrates on the history of the Armed Forces in Scotland from 1660 to the present day. Coverage is weighted towards the Army, but the Navy and Air Force are also well represented.  Particular strengths are the collection of regimental histories and holdings of the Army Lists from the 1740s.  Related subjects include medals, campaign histories, uniforms, weapons and biographies.  The library holds a microfilm copy of the Duke of Cumberland’s papers.


The Library holds the Museum’s institutional archive of printed and manuscript material relating to the Museums history. This collection includes directors’ correspondence, letter books, original plans, drawings and photographs, scrapbooks.  The institutional archive also holds registers and day books from the natural history museum at University of Edinburgh.

In addition, the historical archives and manuscripts of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland are held in the library.

Scottish history and archaeology is represented by a varied collection largely comprising of notes, sketches and journals, often relating to items in the Museum’s collection including the letters of William Smellie; James Drummond drawings; Robert Riddell journals; Alexander Archer drawings of Edinburgh and surrounding area and Sir Daniel Wilson’s 3 volume scrapbook “Memorials of Auld Reekie”.

The archive also includes the original correspondence, notes and journals of several nationally renowned natural historians from the 19th and early 20th centuries, including William Jardine, J.A. Harvie-Brown and William Speirs Bruce.

Rare books

The library collection over 2,000 rare books, with 1,300 titles published before 1800, including:

  • Blaeu, William. Theatrum orbis terrarum, sive Atlas novus, 1649. (6 vols)
  • Elliot, Daniel. A monograph of the Felidae or family of the cats, 1883
  • Audubon, J. J. Birds of America plates (first 6 fascicles)
  • Jardine, William. Illustrations of the British Salmonidae, 1861.
  • Dahlberg, Erik. Suecia antiqua et hodierna, 1716.
  • Reiss, Willhelm. The necropolis of Ancon in Peru, 1880-87.
  • Mathison, Thomas. The Goff, 2nd ed., 1763.
  • Milton, John. Paradise Lost, 1770 (binding by James Scott).

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National Museums Scotland Library Services

A: Chambers Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1JF
E: T: 0131 247 4137

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