The Magic of Special Collections


I graduated in English Literature but my degree was actually comprised of courses across various different disciplines, like English Language, Philosophy, Classics, and Theology. The marvellous way in which literature is woven with the threads of language, religion, and culture teaches us that we cannot separate our learning into self contained subjects but, instead, we must look at the bigger picture if we want to try and grasp meaning. I took the opportunity to study manuscripts, and various Old and Middle English texts in their manuscript versions, and the insight I gained was invaluable.

I learnt that how books were, and are, made is something we must consider if we really want to understand the life of the creator, the time in which they worked, and what that meant for the longevity and influence of the writing. You might not realise that elements such as the type of paper (or vellum) used, how the book was bound, the competence of the scribe, if the book was available to the public, and even the location of where the book was kept, could have so much to tell us today.

For example, vellum (or calf skin) was very expensive. That meant that only the wealthy could afford books and they were very precious. Scribes worked for months and even years on books, carefully writing and illuminated their pages by hand before the books were sewn – a huge difference compared to today’s high speed digital printing. And think again about having access to your own book to do with as you wish– some owners made their books available to the public, only to have the illustrations (or illuminations) cut out by admiring or enterprising viewers.

So much of that textual, cultural, social, and economic information would be lost without the tireless work of university libraries who cultivate these fantastic special collections.

You may have been lucky enough to attend University of Edinburgh’s Close-up on Collections event during Academic Book Week 2017.  But if you didn’t, I want to continue to reiterate the place of rare or ancient books, manuscripts and illuminations, and archives, in academic studies across all fields. These texts are not just examples of brilliant literature and art, but they are also academic books in their own right. They are handbooks which tell us how your social standing played a huge part in the commission of a book, they are autobiographies of aggrieved scribes, they are dictionaries of dialects that may otherwise be lost, and they are histories of how books and learning became available to as many people as possible.

The magic of special collections is not just an appreciation of the hard work of librarians, archivists, curators, and restorers, nor is it the preservation of texts for the present and the future, and neither is it is the chance to experience the past, held in your own hands, and seen with your own eyes. The best bit about special collections is that they are for everyone. And I urge everyone to use them.

You never know what you might discover.

Edinburgh Napier University:

University of Edinburgh:

University of Glasgow:

University of St. Andrews:

University of Dundee:

University of Aberdeen:

These are the links to just a few of the special collections in universities across Scotland. There are many others, across other institutions, nationwide. Alternatively, you can also speak to your local library or find out more via museum facsimilies such as those at The Folio Society and The British Museum.

Photo from The National Geographic Magazine

Article by: @publishstudent

Meet the Events Team

Blog post #2 for the Innovations in Learning and Teaching Book Launch

The newest project for Edinburgh Napier University MSc Publishing students is to plan, manage, promote, and implement an event that celebrates and launches Merchiston Publishing’s newest book. We want to share our work and our EVENT with you!

Kellie, Sarah, Alistair, Hannah & Billy

To bring you up to speed, Edinburgh Napier University presented the Teaching Fellows Conference of 2016 #TFConf16, in January this year.  The most recent conference, and those of prior years, sends academic staff, students and institutions a strong message. That if you’re involved in teaching or learning then you must also “question, challenge and rethink existing practices” (foreword).

ENU prides itself on engagement with its staff and this makes the conference invaluable by giving them a chance to meet, discuss ideas, and present their work. All that work is incredibly important because it means that teachers and lecturers are offering the best possible learning environment to their students, and no more so than at Edinburgh Napier University.

This brilliant book not just a chance to more fully understand the principles that guide leading academic practitioners but is also a symbol of commitment from Edinburgh’s community shaping and awarding winning university in order to encourage peer review and to continue to evaluate itself. It is also a celebration of the hard work and talents of staff and students alike.

The conference became the touch paper for this fantastic project. This project is what allows us, the most recent intake of Publishing students at ENU, to be part of the Innovations Team and to develop what we learn as pupils and to bring it to a wider audience.

We’ll be talking more about the contributors and editors of the book, as well as our event preparation, in the days running up to the launch but for now, let’s introduce the current MSc Publishing team and the tasks they’re responsible for…


Communications Team

Natalie, Claire, and Sarah are the Communications Team – if you’ve had an email about Innovations in Learning and Teaching, it was probably from us! We are in charge of making sure everybody is up to speed with what’s going on with the project, as well as sending out those all-important invitations. It’s a role that requires patience, friendliness, and consummate professionalism.

Highlights of the course so far have been acquiring practical experience with a live project, developing our problem – solving skills, and getting to talk to experienced people in the industry.


Social Media Team

The Social Media Team, made up of Connor, Alistair, and Catherine (your honoured blog poster), are responsible for all content going out on social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. We manage the event pages on Facebook and Eventbrite as well as doing other tasks like blog posting on our associated Publishing by Degrees websites. We also support all our lovely classmates in the other teams, including other promotional copy like press releases, email templates and photo editing.

This role has meant that all three of us have immersed ourselves in the world of digital communications and learnt how that affects modern marketing in the publishing sector. It also means that we get to engage on a really personal level with everyone interested in the book and our endeavours. The course’s Creative Toolkit class – using Adobe Creative Suite and learning about book design and production – is brilliant fun and the skills we’re learning are invaluable.


Project Research Team

Kellie, Catriona and Merrily have been busy gathering additional information for the rest of the team to utilise. For the most part, this has involved collating information about the editors and contributors of the volume, researching who might be interested in attending the event, and looking at how we can expand the reach of the book itself.

We are most proud of our beautiful project spreadsheet that incorporates invitees, press, bloggers and other organisations. The aim of this document is to provide an efficient and unified system for the communications and events teams to use in getting the word out about the book and the launch, and in administrating the event itself.


Design Team

The project’s design team comprises Hannah, Ellen, and Billy. Fascinated by colourful, memorable and effective graphic design, we are responsible for creating and managing all promotional materials and merchandise for the launch of Innovations in Learning and Teaching. We have also undertaken product photography to capture the quality of the physical product for further content to be used by the social media team.

We are enjoying the challenge of the project and the MSc Publishing course in creating striking content and applying our creativity whilst expanding our skill-set.

Events Logistics Team

The Events Team are proud to be managing the logistics and layout of the Innovations in Learning and Teaching book launch. Our team is made up of Amy, April, and Joanna. However, we have also been collaborating closely with members of other teams to make sure our event is smooth sailing. Since booking the venue, Amy and Joanna have been leading hospitality for the event arranging everything from budgets to cheeseboards and wine. Meanwhile, April and Merrily, from the Marketing & Research team, have been programming and organising the event activities.

We are incredibly passionate about this project and cannot wait to see everyone on the night!

Helen & Ann

Project Management Team

We are Helen, Jackie and Ann, the project managers for the Innovations in Learning and Teaching Launch. We have a fantastic project team, making our roles as project managers less about overseeing the flow of the project and more about making sure our fellow team members have what they need to succeed. We have picked up roles dealing with the financial aspects of the launch as well as handling the audio/visual details for the project.

We have really enjoyed being able to learn and utilise these new-found skills in working with this event as well as the MSc Publishing course as a whole, and look forward to seeing how they’ll benefit us in the future.

Now that you’ve met the team, hang fire for the next update on the ins and outs of what we’ve been up to for the past 12 weeks in order to make this great event happen. We knew instantly that we wanted to honour the efforts of those involving in the writing, editing, production, and publishing of Merchiston Publishing’s Innovations in Teaching and Learning and we look forward to bringing you our event.

If you would like to attend the Innovations in Teaching and Learning book launch then you can access tickets here. The event will be on 30th November, Room B32, Merchiston Campus, Edinburgh. Tickets are free but limited so hurry! Everyone is welcome.

(Photography courtesy of Hannah Killoh & Ellen Desmond)

More info on Innovations in Learning and Teaching, edited by Christine Penman and Monika Foster.