At touch of a button, 200 years of Scottish history and culture

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MORE than one million items previously stored in the bowels of the National Library of Scotland have been made available at the touch of a button on the internet.

To get to the documents, it would previously have required a visit to the library's headquarters on Edinburgh's George IV Bridge (above) and spend hours searching through their catalogue systems.

Now 1.5 million manuscripts, letters, books, newspapers and market research reports from the past two hundred years have been made available online to the public via the National Library's online research centre.

The items include about nine per cent of the library's total print collection, providing an invaluable resource to amateur researchers and professional academics.

• National Library of Scotland website

Putting the documents online has involved a massive effort, scanning all the documents and then organising them into categories for easier online searching.

It is estimated that it has taken five years to get the online search facility up and running.

John Coll, head of access and enquiries, National Library of Scotland, said: "I am very excited to see this ambitious project coming to fruition.

"We are leading the way in Scotland in terms of providing seamless access to such an extensive range of resources. Anyone resident in this country and registering as a reader of the library can gain immediate and free access, via the web, to a vast range of material."

For those interested in 19th-century material, access is available to a extensive range of periodicals and newspapers covering events that shaped Victorian society, including a full back catalogue of The Scotsman from 1817-1950 and the Times from 1785 to 1985.

Britain's major writers also have their own dedicated section on the website. The British Literary Manuscripts Online category includes more than 600,000 pages of author manuscripts, including poems, plays, novels, private correspondence and diaries, providing an intimate look into the lives and works of Britain's major writers.

The online resource also includes the Electronic Enlightenment collection, offering a full-text digital archive of the correspondence between the greatest thinkers and writers of the 18th century, containing 53,000 letters and documents from more than 6,000 correspondents. Mr Coll added: "Remote access demonstrates the library's commitment to enriching lives and communities by making a wealth of information freely available to the people of Scotland. It removes the physical and geographical boundaries requiring people to travel to the library to see this content.

"Our intention is to extend coverage as demand grows. We have a target of increasing usage of existing resources by 25 per cent during the current financial year.Achieving this target will influence our move towards greater remote access."

Anyone resident in Scotland can gain access to this resource. Upon completion of an online registration form, a library card number and login details are sent via e-mail.

Registration is free and includes the issuing of a library card to allow use of the library in person.