Alumni Services

David McClay - Philanthropy Manager

David is a graduate of Scottish Historical Studies and now leads projects that ensure the University's Library and Collections are preserved, enhanced and accessed.

David McClay

My background

My first career with the Inland Revenue began at 17. However, history not taxation was my true passion - so after seven years I came to the University of Edinburgh to study. It was an intellectually and socially stimulating time and provided the platform for my new profession as an archivist.

Following a year at the National Archives of Scotland and postgraduate qualifications at the University of Liverpool, I returned to Edinburgh to take up a curatorial post at the National Library of Scotland. The collections there are vast and amazing and it was a real privilege to work with them and the many eclectic researchers, many of them University staff and students.

After a couple of years the Library acquired the remarkable publishing archives of John Murray; still the most expensive archive purchase and now UNESCO designated. As the inaugural senior curator of this collection I was thrilled to work with the papers of authors I had long read and admired, including Jane Austen, Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Charles Darwin, David Livingstone and Paddy Leigh Fermor, to name just some. After a decade of curating this collection I moved on from the Library and then had the opportunity to compile a collection of my favourite letters to mark the John Murray 250th anniversary, published as 'Dear Mr Murray: Letters to a Gentleman Publisher'. Having researched the many tensions and troubles, successes and failures, of publishing with Murray, I was delighted that my own experience was a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding one.

At Edinburgh

I hope that with greater philanthropic resources more people, especially students, can discover and be inspired by the University collections.

When the opportunity arose to come back to the University, first in a Donor Relations role and subsequently as the Philanthropy Manager for the Library and University Collections, it felt as if my career had come full circle. The collections themselves are an inspiration. There are extensive collections of books and archives, covering the wide range of University teaching and research over our long history. There is also a wide range of art and objects, including musical instruments, geological items, anatomy collections, any so much more. Equally inspiring are my colleagues and the staff, students and public who use and engage with the collections. I hope that with greater philanthropic resources more people, especially students, can discover and be inspired by the University collections.

I also led the campaign to save the notebooks of Scottish geologist Charles Lyell for the nation. Lyell’s 294 influential notebooks were due to be sold abroad. However, a temporary export bar was imposed, giving the University and over 1,100 supporters from Scotland, the United Kingdom and around the world the opportunity to raise the necessary funds to purchase them. It was a great privilege to be involved in such an important and impassioned campaign.

Something I know...

Most people are surprised to learn that the University collections are older than the University itself. Clement Littil’s book donation of 1570 was an essential resource to have in place before the students and staff followed. It seems appropriate that the University of Edinburgh features a book at the centre of its crest as a symbol of learning.

Related links

Library and University Collections

Through Lyell's Eyes - a Library blog

Save Charles Lyell's notebooks