Centre for the History of the Book

Work Placement

Optional work placements allow students to take advantage of the exceptional resources in Edinburgh for the study of books in order to gain hands-on experience that will be beneficial in their future careers.

Work placements take place internally, for example in the Centre for Research Collections at the University Library, and externally with several partner organisations. Students will receive training from the placement supervisor, and will undertake well-defined projects in the course of their placement, such as cataloguing, conservation, collation, digitization and other kinds of work.

They will reflect on their placement in a poster presentation, and it will provide material for an academic essay. Regular academic oversight of the work placement will be provided by the Course Organiser.

Placement locations

Past placements have taken place at a number of institutions, availability of which varies every year. In session 2015-16 these institutions included:

National Library of Scotland, John Murray Archive

The John Murray Archive is one of the jewels in the crown of the National Library of Scotland.  The archive contains manuscripts, private letters and business papers covering over 200 years of the history of John Murray’s publishers, during which time the firm was run by seven generations of the same family and published authors including Lord Byron, Jane Austen, Charles Darwin and David Livingstone.  The work placement would likely involve contributing to a large-scale digitisation project currently being undertaken within the archive to make its collections more widely accessible for research.

National Library of Scotland, Rare Books Division

The National Library of Scotland provides access to about one million rare books. Many of these are original printed volumes dating from 1455 to the present day.  The collection is wide-ranging and diverse, and includes an unparalleled range of rare Scottish books and related material.  The work placement would likely involve contributing to a special project to catalogue some of the books in the greater detail than has so far been done.

University of Edinburgh, Centre for Research Collections

Edinburgh University Library came into being in 1580 when Clement Litill bequeathed his collection to the new college. The Copyright Act of 1710 gave the library the right to claim a copy of every book published in Britain and Ireland, a right which was maintained until 1837.  There are over 15,000 pre-1801 British or English-language books listed on the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) as being in Edinburgh University Library. The Centre for Research Collections now has over 400,000 rare books and acquires up to 20,000 new items every year.  The CRC is willing to host several students on work placements, working in different areas of the collection.

University of Edinburgh, New College Library

Founded in 1843 as the library of the Free Church College, New College Library now serves the University’s School of Divinity.  It is one of the largest theology libraries in the UK, with over a quarter of a million items.  Its large and rich special collections include the papers of Thomas Chalmers, J.H. Oldham and James S. Stewart.  The work placement will entail provenance and bibliographical research on selected New College Library Special Collections items to enable informed selection for an exhibition to be held in August 2016.

National Museum of Scotland, Library

On his death in 1863, Alexander Henry Rhind, Egyptologist and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, bequeathed his library to the Society.  Rhind had a library of approximately 1600 books dating from the 16th Century  on a wide range of subjects, most of which were retained with the remainder (those regarded “of a miscellaneous or unsuitable character for the library of the said Society”) bequeathed to David Bremner.    Very few of the books that Rhind bequeathed are identified as such in the library catalogue.  However the library does have a full catalogue of Rhind’s library with an indication of those titles that were sent to Bremner.  For the work placement the library would like the student to locate these books in the library collection and note on the catalogue record that they are part of the Rhind Bequest on and also add any other relevant information, as most of the records are brief and do not include details of plates, provenance, etc.  Given the size of the library the emphasis will be on the 17th and 18th C titles (which should already be held in our special collections).  The project will also be a useful opportunity to record the condition of the books and any damage they have sustained to assist scoping any future conservation work and if possible even carry out some minor conservation work.

Edinburgh Central Library

Edinburgh Central Library is a large public library with an unusually rich collection of rare books.  The work placement involves checking holdings and creating an inventory of Rare Book items managed by the Reference Library.  The tasks would ask for a bibliographic description, remarks, and comment on condition.  The purpose of this project is to create a more accurate inventory, inform the use of conservation funds and improve identification of items particularly in relation to a salvage situation.  The holdings are predominantly C17th & C18th items and areas of coverage are weighted towards religion, and history (not Scottish).  For this exercise there are potentially 800 items, but with the student an agreed target relating to items to be examined would be agreed early in the project.

Edinburgh Royal Observatory

The Crawford Collection of books and manuscripts held at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh is one of the most extensive and valuable astronomical collections in the world. The collection represents a broad history of astronomy spanning the 13th to the 19th century alongside its supporting subjects of physics, mathematics and optics.  It was the gift of James Ludovic Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford (formerly Lord Lindsay) in 1888 and contains over 15000 volumes, including 450 16th-century titles.  The work placement could include a project to enhance catalogue descriptions of selected books in the collection through further bibliographical research, and/or preparing an online exhibition based on a specific theme.

Centre for the History of the Book

The Centre for the History of the Book (CHB) was founded in 1995 as an international and interdisciplinary centre for advanced research into all aspects of the material culture of the text - its production, circulation, and reception from manuscript to electronic text. One of the first research centres to be established in the field, it is now recognized internationally as a leading centre for the study of book history and related topics.  The work placement would involve assisting in the development of a teaching collection within the collections of the CRC, which the CHB would draw on for future postgraduate training events.

Scottish Poetry Library

The Scottish Poetry Library is a unique national resource and advocate for the art of poetry, and Scottish poetry in particular.  In order to fulfill its function as a special library with permanent access to both the poetry and critical material, the SPL retains a large reference collection, spanning background and critical books, anthologies from all periods of Scottish history, anthologies from around the world, and single and collected editions from Scottish, British and international poets.  The SPL has indicated its willingness to host a work placement student, but at the time of writing has not supplied details of the placement.

Other options

Discussions are ongoing with some other potential hosts, with whom it may be possible to match students as the arrangements for the placements develop.