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Support the Collection

Support the Collection

Support the Collection

Donors and supporters celebrating saving Sir Charles Lyell’s notebooks for the nation, at the Geological Society of London, 28 February 2020

Thank You

Thank you to all who have helped to bring together the remarkable Sir Charles Lyell collection at the University of Edinburgh. This generous support began with the original archival donation from the Lyell family in 1927. Then, Lyell’s notebooks were saved from export in 2019, with over a thousand donations from individuals and institutions, including the John R. Murray Charitable Trust and the National Heritage Memorial Fund. For a list of supporters see link below. In 2020, H.M. Government allocated extensive further archives and the Friends of the National Libraries and the Friends of Edinburgh University Library supported the purchase of further letters and portraits.

We have ambitious plans to meet the full potential of this outstanding collection, making it physically and digitally accessible to students, researchers and the curious. For details of these plans and how you can help please see below or contact David McClay, Philanthropy Manager. 

Our Vision for the Sir Charles Lyell Collection

The Sir Charles Lyell Collection, at the University of Edinburgh, offers a unique insight, not only into a towering scientific figure of the 19th century, but also a window into a society that was in the midst of global change. With extensive archives, nearly 300 personal notebooks, publications and specimens this is a vital resource for teaching, research and public engagement. To meet the collection’s full potential we will be investing time and resources so that it will become freely accessible in person and online.

We are building on our initial conservation, description, exhibition and digital photography work, to deliver a comprehensive access program, which will provide a curated, transcribed and engaging collection; a fully accessible resource for students, researchers and the public. As the collection is cared for and transformed our options for local, national and international collaboration will increase.

The initial challenges are to conserve the collection, create and then grow the Charles Lyell’s World Online website, through curation and digital photography. Throughout the project we will also where possible create paid student professional placements. With additional support we can, whilst maintaining our high professional standards, accelerate our timescales for delivery and add innovative and exciting elements to make the Sir Charles Lyell Collection an outstanding example of modern cultural heritage engagement for all.

We would be delighted to hear from individuals and institutions with an interest in Lyell and our vision for this collection.   Contact:


  • Daryl Green, Head of Special Collections/Deputy Head of Centre for Research Collections | Tel: 0131 650 6864 To discuss how support is making the collections accessible, please contact:
  • David McClay,  Philanthropy Manager, Library & University Collections Development and Alumni | Tel: 07815903725 / 0131 650 2886 / 0131 650 6309 | View David's Profile


Lyell Access projects priorities  

Conservation Care

Whilst the Lyell notebooks and additional archive materials are generally in good condition, some repairs, rehousing and care is required to make them useable in our reading rooms, as well as suitable for digital photography and public display.

A full conservation program is scheduled for 2021 and will provide two student placements alongside a dedicated conservator. As our highest project priority funding has been secured and is pending formal announcement

Description and Transcription

In a diverse and detailed archive and publication collection how do you find what you are looking for, then understand what you have discovered? Professional cataloguing and description is the essential first step, but additional transcription of texts and added description and interpretation are invaluable for the experienced academic researcher, as well as the general reader. Our current pilot projects are looking at how technology can effectively and efficiently help in this process. Archival and curatorial experts will be key in delivering a searchable and readable collection, as well as managing a range of access and outreach projects. By supplementing current and planned University staffing a useable collection can be possible much sooner to a much wider audience.

Digital Photography and Online Resources

Whilst everyone will be warmly welcome to research in person the original Lyell items at the University Library, this may not be possible or preferable. So, a fully digitised and online version of the collection is our ambition. High quality images of his notebooks, letters and manuscript drafts will form the basis of a curated and varied resource, including the mapping of collections held elsewhere. By adding specialised photographers to this challenge we can realise the ambition of a freely accessible digital collection for all, whilst also providing essential support to such activities as transcription, publications and exhibition loans.

We are excited about our Sir Charles Lyell Collection and our vision for it and would be pleased for you to contact us to hear more and to discover your thoughts.

Current Access

Access to the collection, particularly online, has been adversely affected by the enforced lockdown as a result of Covid 19 but we are working hard to make material available as soon as possible. Full details are available here.

How to Donate:

Donation Portal: Make a one-off donation! (

Or if donating from the United States of America:

Make a gift | The University of Edinburgh USA Development Trust (


Please reference your Lyell gift at the ‘Add special instructions’ section, by clicking and typing Lyell Access, the screen looks like this:








Notebook campaign supporters

Leading institutions, groups and individuals have generously supported or endorsed our campaign to save Lyell's notebooks.

Thanks to the generosity of over 1,100 individuals, institutions and supporters from Scotland, the United Kingdom and around the world we were able to save Sir Charles Lyell’s notebooks. We extend a warm and heartfelt thank you to those who made it possible. See the full list of supporters

If you supported but don’t see your name please contact 

David McClay,  Philanthropy Manager, Library & University Collections Development and Alumni | Tel: 07815903725 / 0131 650 2886 / 0131 650 6309 |



Read about the collection on the Library Blog - Through Lyell's Eyes