Treasures at the National Library

A new permanent exhibit documenting Scottish arts and culture

Treasures of the National Library of Scotland’ is a new permanent exhibition at the National Library of Scotland, intending to offer a unique insight into Scotland’s history, culture and people, and the country’s place in the world.

Featuring objects from early printed books to video installations; from maps and medieval manuscripts to passports and letters, Treasures reflects ideas and innovation, creativity and social change, across the centuries. In order both to preserve the fragile items and to showcase a wide selection of them, the display will change throughout the year.

The exhibition starts with the gorgeous Iona Psalter (pictured), a highly decorated devotional text dated between 1180 and 1220. It contains sacred songs known as psalms – and if you’ve yet to see the Book of Kells, this is a miniature local alternative.

Another personal favourite is from the archive of Isobel Wylie Hutchison (1889 to 1982). A Scottish solo explorer, botanist, artist and writer, between 1927 and 1936, she journeyed across Greenland, the northern coast of Alaska, and Arctic Canada. And my third choice would be an extract from, ‘Where the Bens Stand Sentinel’. Filmed c.1932 by Ronnie L Jay, it’s one of the earliest known colour films made in Scotland.

Other highlights currently on display include: Timothy Pont’s ground-breaking maps, belongings of pioneer Isobel Wylie Hutchison, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, a letter from Ludwig van Beethoven, Scotland’s first printers Chepman & Myllar, a complete Gutenberg Bible, , King of Speyside James Scott Skinner captured on wax cylinder and Robert Burns’s Ae Fond Kiss (pictured).

Being in the presence of such ancient beautiful artefacts does make you wonder how on earth we will be able to preserve today’s increasingly digital words and images – and the exhibition addresses that too, with a nod to the most up to date information and methods of curation.

In partnership with literary collective, Neu! Reekie!, the exhibition features some original work from contemporary artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers, all inspired by the current exhibits. At the press of a very modern button, poets and musicians, such as Nadine Aisha Jassat and ­­­Emma Pollock, share their responses and their new work. With a documentary of relevant social history running overhead, it links past and present, and brings a very fitting end, to the gallery tour.

Treasures, as with other National Library initiatives, is a very accessible exhibition. Whether you’re a fan of Harry Potter, curious about the multi-language editions of Harry Potter, want to combine a quick glance at the gorgeous with a visit to the café, or you’d like to linger over the , it’s suitable for all ages. No prior knowledge of any of the stories is assumed – but you’re bound to leave having learned something new.

Text is in English, Gaelic and Scots.

From Friday 24th March 2022, Treasure is a permanent exhibition at the National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1EW. The gallery is free, and is open daily. Contact NLS for times and general information:

Visit the Treasures | National Library of Scotland (

Photographs courtesy of Nichole Marsh

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