Founded by Tessa Ransford, the Scottish Poetry Library initially consisted of “some rooms off the Royal Mile in the Old Town of Edinburgh, 300 books – mostly donated – and a part-time staff of two.” Supported by the Scottish Poetry Library Association, founded in 1982,the Library itself opened January 1984 “in the former packing-room of publishers Oliver & Boyd in Edinburgh’s historic Tweeddale Court.” In 1999, the Library moved to “an award-winning building designed by Malcolm Fraser Architects and chiefly funded by a Capital Lottery grant,” with an archive by then numbering some 30,000 items. Stock now runs at “over 40,000 items. The shelves cannot hold many more, so we are in the process of altering the building to make room for expanding the collection and the range of our activities.”
According to the Library’s materials, “the SPL is one of three poetry libraries in the UK, but the only one to be independently constituted and housed. It is the only poetry house in the world to have an extensive lending library at its core.” Its core principles remain; ” free access to lending and reference collections, a national core but an international outlook, and the pleasures of poetry shared in schools and through an events programme.”
Poetry has had an intimate relationship with the modern Scottish national literary, and even nationalist, movement, as typified by Edwin Morgan. It’s no coincidence that the Library “opened the Edwin Morgan Archive of the poet’s published works in 2009” – because the Library is an institution that befits poetry’s role in the identity of the modern Scottish nation.