Information Services

Support the Collection

Find out more about how your support is helping us to care for and make fully accessible this unique and internationally significant 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 donation of archival material from the Lyell family in 1927. In 2019, Lyell's notebooks were saved from export, thanks to the help of over a thousand donations from individuals and institutions, including the John R. Murray Charitable Trust and the National Heritage Memorial Fund. (A full list of the 2019 notebook campaign supporters is provided below). H.M. Government, under its Acceptance in Lieu Scheme, allocated the remaining Papers of Sir Charles Lyell to the University of Edinburgh in 2020.  In the same year, an additional collection of letters and portraits was purchased thanks to the combined help of the Friends of the National Libraries and the Friends of Edinburgh University Library.

Thanks to further support, we are now beginning to deliver on our 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

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. Lyell's extensive archive, which includes nearly 300 personal notebooks, thousands of letters, multiple publications and over 100 geological specimens, 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 and engagement programme. Continued curation, description, transcription and engagement activities will bring about a fully accessible and meaningful resource for students, researchers and the public. As our work to care for and open up the collection progresses, the opportunities for local, national and international collaboration and partnership will increase.

One of our initial challenges was to secure funding to conserve the collection and to create and grow the Charles Lyell's World Online website; through curation and digital photography. The funding for the first stages of these access projects is already secured and this work is underway.

Throughout the project work we will also, where possible, create learning and engagement opportunities for students through paid placements. We require additional support to complete the project to our high professional standards and so that we may include innovative and exciting elements which will 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 Sir Charles Lyell and our vision for this collection.  Contact:


Strategic oversight of the Sir Charles Lyell Collection (collections management, access and engagement)

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 McClay's profile


Lyell Access and Engagement Programme Priorities  

Conservation Care

The Sir Charles Lyell Collection, including Lyell's papers, correspondence, notebooks and geological specimens, is generally in good condition. Some repairs, re-housing, consolidation and cleaning are required to make them safely useable in our reading rooms, as well as suitable for digital photography and public display.

A full conservation program is scheduled to begin early 2022. A dedicated professional conservator supported by two student placements will complete a robust programme of conservation and preservation treatment across the entire collection. Full funding for this work has been secured thanks to the generous support of the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust, the Murray family and Jim Hunter. 

Description and Transcription

Professional cataloguing and description is the essential first step to discovering and understanding what is in this diverse, detailed and inter-related archive, publication and specimen collection. Additional description and interpretation of texts, alongside transcription, are invaluable tools to aid the experienced academic researcher, as well as the general reader. Our current pilot projects have shown how technology can effectively and efficiently help in this process.

Archival and curatorial experts are critical to 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. Adding to the University funded staff and volunteers will be key to bringing out the full content, detail and context of this remarkable collection. 

Digital Photography and Online Resources

We warmly welcome researchers who wish to consult the Sir Charles Lyell Collection in-person, but we understand that this may not always be possible or preferable. Our ambition is to create a fully digitised and online version of the collection. High quality images of Lyell's notebooks, letters and manuscript drafts will form the basis of a curated and varied resource, which will include the mapping of related 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.

Vital funding granted by the International Association of Sedimentologists will enable the design and build of the Charles Lyell's World Online website. Funding for two specialist digitisation staff to help digitise Lyell's notebooks has been provided by our supporters, including the Murray family, the Geologists' Association's Curry Fund, the History of Geology Society, Jim Hunter and anonymous donors. With further funding, the remaining two years of the digitisation project will bring about the complete digitisation of all 294 notebooks, as well as other significant parts of the collection, all of which will be made available online.

Current Access

We are working hard to make material available online as soon as possible. Full details on how to access the collection, both in-person and remotely, can be found on our Access the Collection pages.

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 (

Sample image of USA Donor Page

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, in 2019, 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 |