Edinburgh Local

Library treasures old and new

A fascinating exhibition and a rare book are part of the University’s exceptional collections.

Who? Why? What? exhibition

School picture books, illustrated instruction manuals and anatomical models are part of a new Main Library exhibition which honours a generation of artists who became educational pioneers.

In an age before computers and screens, illustrations in books were the main medium to make learning more engaging and effective. The 'How? Why? What?' exhibition explores how hand-painted visual aids were used from the 1930s through to the 1970s to make education more interesting and appealing.

More than 100 objects are featured, including illustrated books from the 1930s which helped children learn to read.  A bright yellow model aeroplane, made using instructions from a 1960s craft manual, demonstrates illustrators’ skill in helping learners grasp design concepts.  

A rare illustrated essay by George Orwell on what it means to be English is also on display.  It was commissioned by the Ministry of Information as part of a Britain in Picturesseries and published in 1947 to tell the story of the life in the UK to help boost morale in the aftermath of World War II.

Colourful dental moulds, anatomic models of body organs and a hand-drawn diagram of the eye provide insight into medical training over the decades. 

Rare book acquired

In this 50thanniversary year of the Main Library building, curators of our Collections are also celebrating a new acquisition – a rare edition of the work of renowned playwright Ben Jonson, a contemporary of William Shakespeare.  

The book was printed in 1640 and features annotations to the manuscript dating from the period, including stage directions, details of props and textual corrections.  Experts say no other editions of Jonson’s works show how his plays were actually performed in this significant age of English theatre.  

The book was purchased with support from the Friends of the University Library, Friends of the National Libraries and the John R Murray Trust.

We are delighted to purchase this landmark work and are very grateful to our supporters for helping us save this volume of recognised cultural importance.

Joseph Marshall, Head of the University’s Centre for Research Collections 

Find out more

The Ben Jonson work can be viewed by contacting the Centre for Research Collections at https://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/library-museum-gallery/crc

You would be welcome to join the Friends of the Library and can find out more through their website at https://friendsofeul.wordpress.com/