Library Lives

Hidden Histories of Reading in Georgian Edinburgh

Illustrated panorama of Edinburgh in a wooden frame

Edinburgh's Enlightened citizens studied the past, reformed their university, developed their town as a cultural centre, and shared their opinions in books, periodicals, and correspondence. Their ideas had international influence and their libraries supported their activities.

Libraries that lend books need to keep track of who has them, when they are taken, and when they are returned. They captured this information in borrowing registers. These fascinating paper records allow us to recover hidden histories of book use, knowledge dissemination, and participation in literate culture. While libraries used paper-based lending systems until the arrival of computers in the late twentieth century, the format of these registers allows them to be easily preserved in archives where they can be studied today.

Drawing on the findings from Books and Borrowing, 1750-1830: An Analysis of Scottish Borrowers’ Registers, an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)-funded research project at the Universities of Stirling and Glasgow, this exhibition follows three significant readers through the borrowing registers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, bringing Edinburgh’s hidden Georgian book borrowing communities to light.

Image: Panorama of Edinburgh from Calton Hill, 1792, by Robert Barker