Spotlight on our Centre for Research Collections

On Tuesday 30th January we’ll be holding a Discovery Day event in the Main Library where representatives from 3 publishers of digitised primary source collections and our very own Centre for Research Collections will be on hand to help you navigate through and find useful material in the huge range of primary sources you have access to at the Library.

The University of Edinburgh holds world class collections, including rare books, archives and manuscripts, art, historical musical instruments and museum objects ranging from geological specimens to anatomical models. These unique collections are and can be used for teaching and research within the University and by the wider community.

The main entry and access point for these collections is the Centre for Research Collections (CRC) which is based on the 6th floor of the Main Library. The CRC is open to all researchers, including students, staff, visiting academics and members of the public.

Rare books

The CRC holds about 400,000 rare books and manuscripts, many found nowhere else. Our earliest handwritten book is the 11th century Celtic Psalter; the earliest printed book is a woodblock Chinese commentary produced in 1440. The collection includes the libraries of Enlightenment economist Adam Smith and modern Scottish writer Hugh MacDiarmid.


Archives are the unique documentary sources which are essential for understanding a wide range of people, places, knowledge and learning. The CRC’s collections have a range of strengths including Scottish culture, the research and business of the University of Edinburgh, and literary, scientific and medical work from across the world.


The Art Collection contains over 8,000 items which reflect the history of the University, the city and Scotland and also supports world-leading research and teaching at Edinburgh.
The collection comprises an astonishing range of objects, spanning two millennia and a
multitude of artistic periods.

You can visit the Talbot Rice Gallery which is the public art Gallery for the University of Edinburgh. You can also find art on campus, including the new public artwork in the Main Library by Turner Prize-nominated artist Nathan Coley.

© Caroline Stirling

Musical Instruments

The Musical Instrument Collection contains over 5,500 items, covering the history of
musical instruments from c.1550 to the present day. Instruments of all types and traditions can be found, including some of the world’s most iconic and rare examples.

Did you know the University has its own museum to display this fantastic collection? St Cecilia’s Hall museum brings this important collection of historical musical instruments under one roof. St Cecilia’s Hall originally opened in 1763 and is the oldest purpose-built concert hall in Scotland. The museum is free and open to the public, Tuesday-Saturday 10am -5pm.

© The University of Edinburgh


Most collections support scholarly research, some tell the story of the University’s past, some are used daily as teaching collections, while others, such as the Natural History Collections, are DNA libraries, while yet others glorify corporate spaces – they are all are part of the University’s rich cultural holdings.

University of Edinburgh Museums and Galleries

© The University of Edinburgh

Digitised collections

The CRC has over 40,000 high quality images of items in our collections, photographed by the Digital Imaging Unit. You can view these at University of Edinburgh Image Collections.

For more information on the CRC, its collections and how to access them see their website, Centre for Research Collections, or contact them directly.

Or why not come and speak to them at our Discovery Day on Tuesday 30th January, 10am-3pm. You will find them on the 1st floor of the Main Library along with representatives from 3 of the major publishers of digitised primary source collections, Adam Matthew, Gale Cengage and ProQuest. You can find out more about the collections we have access to through these 3 publishers via previous blog posts.

Caroline Stirling – Academic Support Librarian for School of History, Classics and Archaeology