The library has announced plans to put a third of its collection of 24 million items online over the next ten years, in one of the biggest programmes of its kind anywhere in Europe.
The move will offer a worldwide audience a gateway to information on Scottish culture and history, to view unique documents including manuscripts of major Scottish writers such as Robert Burns and Walter Scott, thousands of films on life in Scotland, and memorabilia from last year’s referendum on Scottish independence, among many others.
The library’s long term aim is to make as much material digitally available as possible, subject to restrictions imposed by copyright or conditions set by publishers.
This includes not only precious manuscripts, rare books, maps, sound archives, e-books and journals, but business information, databases and other content that will contribute to economic growth and social wellbeing.
“The internet has created a revolution in how people expect to be able to access information,” said National librarian, Dr John Scally. “We want people to be able to connect to our collections from wherever they are, rather than having to consult material in the Library as has been the case for most of our existence. We are committed to removing as many barriers as possible that prevent people accessing our collections and services.”
He added: “Our role is to be the guardian of the published and recorded memory of Scotland for current and future generations. Our aim is to make the knowledge held within our collections as widely available as possible.”
Although digital developments present many opportunities, Dr Scally stressed that the physical book and the Library as a physical destination will continue to play a central role in its plans.
Supporting research and improving traditional library services will remain a key priority.
The library already has a strong online presence and has digitised a number of its iconic items including the last letter of Mary Queen of Scots, the Order for the massacre of Glencoe, the first books printed in Scotland in the 16th century, the first atlas of Scotland and First World War official photographs.
It has seen traffic to its website double in the past five years to more than three million visits annually. The digital shift, to take place over the next decade, will add to the rich content available online and attract even more visitors. It will also mean that fragile items that can be damaged through physical contact can be viewed safely with the original being preserved.
It is part of an ambitious strategy The Way Forward: 2015-2020, agreed by the Library Board, to improve access to the collections and ensure the Library’s services support education, research and learning, thereby contributing to a successful Scotland.
“At no time in our history has it been easier to share the story of Scotland with a global audience,” said Dr Scally.
“At no time has it been as possible to reach out beyond our buildings to provide services to people living in every part of Scotland. This new strategy seeks to harness technological developments to achieve the central aim of the National Library – to provide access to knowledge that is inspiring, accessible and relevant to anyone, whether living in or interested in Scotland.”
Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs, said: “The National Library’s new Strategy 2015-20 highlights the key role that the Library plays in educating and supporting research and innovation, and enhancing Scotland’s profile here at home and abroad. I am pleased to see that it is firmly committed to improving access to its impressive collection of 24 million items by developing further its online presence to make its collections more widely available and engage with new and more diverse audiences worldwide.”