Unsung Heroes

In last week’s blog, Brian Aitken wrote about importing existing datasets into our Content Management System.

Two of those datasets (for the Selkirk Subscription Library and the John Gray Library at Haddington) were generously donated to the project by Vivienne Dunstan, who transcribed the borrowings and undertook substantial genealogical research on the borrowers, during the course of writing her excellent PhD, ‘Reading Habits in Scotland circa 1750-1820’ (available to read here). We should have acknowledged her contribution at the time, and apologise for the oversight. We are delighted to thank Viv for her generous contribution to the project, and to foreground her ground-breaking work in the field of library history. Her in-depth study of the Haddington library ‘Glimpses into a Town’s Reading Habits in Enlightenment Scotland: Analysing the Borrowings of Gray Library, Haddington, 1732–1816’, Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, 26:1-2 (2006), 42–59, is recommended to all those interested not only in this individual library, but as a fascinating study of reading habits more generally. A full PDF of the article is available via Viv’s website under Edinburgh University Press’s green Open Access rules.

Viv’s kind donation of her datasets, enhanced by the substantial extra work she undertook during her doctoral research, has helped us in numerous ways. First, as discussed in Brian’s blog, some of the technical challenges of the project have involved working out how to combine the borrowing records of 14 very different libraries into a Content Management System that will eventually allow people to search consistently across all of them. Having both Selkirk and Haddington to work with, along with our 5 other existing datasets, has been incredibly useful in helping us to work out how to do this. Secondly, Viv’s extensive genealogical research about the borrowers gives us wonderfully valuable extra information about the borrowers, which, as the project develops, we hope to be able to report on. And finally, although we will (hopefully!) eventually be able to return to the archives ourselves, her transcriptions, along with those of Jill Dye (Leighton Library), Kate Buchanan (Innerpeffray Library), Matthew Sangster (St Andrews University Library), Kit Baston (Glasgow University Library) and Mark Towsey (Wigtown Subscription Library), have allowed us to start an archival project at a time when archives are entirely closed.

Without the generosity of researchers like Viv, projects like ours would be so much less rich. Library history, as a discipline, has produced a huge number of really excellent case studies of individual libraries, and our hope now is that we will be able to draw on these to enhance the data we are collecting together in ‘Books and Borrowing’ to build up a more comprehensive picture of borrowing practices across Scotland. Thank you Viv, for the important part you are playing in this endeavour.