The Hidden Library: Discover the National Library of Scotland
In 1944 Muriel Spark stayed in Louis MacNeice's house, while the poet was away. It was this experience, she wrote, that gave her the implicit permission to write, inspiring her future creative work.
The idea of creative permission interests me too. How do we give ourselves - and each other – permission to create and use creative resources? In my residency at the National Library of Scotland (NLS) I want to give people permission to use the Library and to support writers and other creative folk to use the Library to explore or develop their creativity.
Everyone in Scotland is entitled to use the NLS, but too many don't know they can, or don't feel allowed. Despite the pleasures of our cafe and the fascination of our exhibitions, you still have to be a fairly intrepid explorer to use the Library. Even our catalogue is a strict and unforgiving beast. You have to know what you want and why - to be confident, to feel entitled.
This is a shame. We're a library of never-ending discoveries - even those who work here don't know all that the Library holds. With 15 million printed items, we really do have something for everyone.
We have resources and inspirations for writers and artists here in droves. Only last week I was in awe at the sight of Muriel Spark's hand writing and a typescript of a hilarious, unpublished (really? incredibly so) short story. Last month, I got to see some of the books from my childhood that I'd loved long ago, but then forgotten. I'm nearly at the end of my residency and I've written three poems prompted by the library. There's no doubt in my mind that the Library is a powerhouse of ideas and inspirations.
My 'permission' is the Hidden Library - open days which offer the reading rooms to everyone. There's no need to register, no need to prove that you've tried every other library first, and no need to know what you want. The obstacles (two forms of ID, a reading list) are gone. All you need is your curiosity.
The next Hidden Library, this Saturday 28 June, is especially for creative people. For one afternoon the NLS will not be a library which you need permission to use, but will become a place that gives you permission - to discover, to write, to create.
We want beginners, experimenters and old hands to come together to explore the Library and the creative arts. We'll have something for knitters, quilters, book artists, poets, fiction writers, travel writers and the generally curious.
For artists, poets and pamphleteers:
- Altered Books Workshop 2-3pm
- Book Sculptures Workshop 3-5pm
- Explore the Ian Hamilton Finlay's archive (all afternoon).
- Researching Historical Fiction Workshop 2-3pm
- Travel Writing Workshop 3.30-4.30pm
- Enter our poetry competition 'From Home to Beyond' - the winning poem will be on display in the Library all summer.
- Knit in the NLS: we're aiming to cover the banisters with knitting (there's a lot - see photo!) Bring the kids too - finger knitting is SO much more fun than loom bands!
- Quilts at the NLS: Come and see our unusual and extensive collection of materials about quilting
We're also showing unusual knitting and quilting material, fashion mags from the 60s and - for the downright weird - our unique ephemera collection. Book art and writing workshops are bookable (but free!). For knitting and general discovery drop in any time from 2-5p.m. View the full programme on the NLS website.
Muriel Spark's unexpected visit to Louis MacNeice's house was 'a curious adventure.' That's what the National Library of Scotland has been for me this year and what I hope it will be for you, this Saturday.