The University of Edinburgh has one of the most important libraries in world, housing original antiquarian manuscripts and rare books. However, due to underfunding, their collection of contemporary works is limited. For example, I had to write a bibliographic essay on W.G. Sebald, a highly acclaimed contemporary German novelist and could not find any of his books at the University of Edinburgh. This came as a surprise since I completed my undergrad at a heavily-funded university with an extensive collection of contemporary literature and never had problems finding the books I wanted.

Fortunately, I was able to find some of Sebald’s books at the National Library of Scotland (NLS), which has a broad collection of past and present works. The NLS is the largest library in Scotland and is located less than ten minutes from the university. If you pursue your graduate studies in Edinburgh, the NLS will be an important resource. As a postgraduate, you are entitled to the general reader’s ticket (i.e. library card), which is valid for up to three years.

The NLS is a closed-stacks library, meaning that you cannot check out books and bring them to your home. You have to read them in one of the five Reading Rooms. Fortunately, you can pre-order books and reserve them for up to seven days.

I find the NLS too strict, cold, and cavernous. In addition to being unable to check out books, you aren’t allowed to bring backpacks, bags, pens, highlighters, or food into the Reading Rooms. And of course, no talking is allowed. I prefer studying at home or coffee shops. However, some of my friends and classmates like the quiet, scholarly ambiance and really enjoy working there. Your perception of NLS obviously depends on what your study preferences are.

Your experience in the UK may be completely different. You may attend grad school in a place with an open library system and a large budget. Just don’t expect things to be the same as home.


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