Central Library, Edinburgh

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Panoramic image of the front of Central Library on George IV Bridge in Edinburgh.

Central Library in Edinburgh, opened in 1890, was the first public library building in the city.[1]


Today there are 28 public libraries in the Scottish capital[2] but, as the first, the creation of Central Library was funded with £50,000 from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.[3] At the opening ceremony a telegram from Carnegie was read out stating: "We trust that this Library is to grow in usefullness year after year, and prove one of the most potent agencies for the good of the people for all time to come."[3]

The site selected for the library was the former home of Sir Thomas Hope, 1st Baronet Hope of Craighall, advocate for King Charles I.[4] The structure, built in 1616, was demolished in March of 1887 to make way for the library,[4] the lintel from Hope's home, bearing the carved inscription TECUM HABITA 1616 from the fourth satire of Persius, is preserved above an inner doorway of the library.[5][6]

Carnegie's funding was initially an offer of £25,000 in 1886 which was doubled, overcoming prior opposition to the establishment of a public library, the city—last of those to do so in Scotland—adopted the Public Libraries Act and on 9 July 1887, Carnegie laid the foundation stone of architect George Washington Browne's French Renaissance-styled building.[3]

Records for 1890, the first full year the library was open, show that over 440,000 book loans were issued;[3] current records indicate that today, over a century on, the library issues over 500,000 book loans annually[7]

In November 2017, on the 100th anniversary of her death, a memorial to Dr Elsie Inglis, the founder of the Scottish Women's Hospitals, was unveiled at Central Library.[8]

Litrary Connections[edit]

Ian Rankin.

Muriel Spark.


In May 2014 new children's and music libraries were opened within the main library building, these departments had previously been housed in a separate building on George IV Bridge. The children's library features wall graphics by award-winning children's book illustrator Catherine Rayner.

As with all public libraries in Edinburgh, adult collections are organised using the Library of Congress Classification system.[9] Since Wigan dropped the system during a 1974 local government reorganisation, Edinburgh is the only municipality in the UK continuing to use it. Children's books are organised under the more-widespread Dewey Decimal Classification scheme.[10]



  1. ^ Edinburgh Public Libraries 1890–1950, p.2
  2. ^ Central Library City of Edinburgh Council
  3. ^ a b c d Armstrong & White, p.3
  4. ^ a b "Visitors To The Site Of The Free Library". Scotland: Edinburgh Evening News, Midlothian, Scotland. 23 March 1887. 
  5. ^ Rosaline Masson (January 23, 2015). "V". Edinburgh (Illustrations). Scotland: Adam and Charles Black. Retrieved 13 July 2017. 
  6. ^ Robert Chambers, John Gibson Lockhart, R. L. Stevenson (November 27, 2014). The Edinburgh Collection: Traditions of Edinburgh , Peter's Letters to his Kinfolk, Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes. Palimpsest Book Production Limited. 
  7. ^ City of Edinburgh Council
  8. ^ Gordon, Rebecca (24 November 2017). "War hero and suffragist Dr Elsie Inglis honoured at Central Library". www.edinburgh.gov.uk. Retrieved 2018-01-16. 
  9. ^ Bowman, J. H. (November 2005). "Classification in British Public Libraries: A Historical perspective". Library History. 21: 161. 
  10. ^ Edinburgh Public Libraries 1890–1950, p.4
  • Armstrong, Norma; White, Alan (1990). Lum hats in paradise: Edinburgh City Libraries, 1890–1990. Edinburgh: Edinburgh City Libraries. 
  • Edinburgh Public Libraries 1890–1950: A Handbook and History of Sixty Years Progress. Edinburgh Public Libraries Committee. 1951. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 55°56′54″N 3°11′33″W / 55.9483°N 3.1924°W / 55.9483; -3.1924