Save the School of Scottish Studies

Few things have such a bearing on our lives as the stories we tell one another. It is easy to take for granted just how much a nation’s stories, its legends and jokes, its songs and music, its prayers and curses, in all the myriad voices of the land, can tell us more about that nation. The problem is, things which are taken for granted make for easy targets.

Students at Edinburgh University have launched a campaign opposing plans which could see the internationally renowned School of Scottish Studies split up and Scotland’s most important archive of folklore and oral culture seriously endangered.

For those who not familiar with the archive this clip  from a BBC documentary celebrating the 60th anniversary of the School gives a flavour of the archives breadth as well as the value of having it in one accessible location. Even a few minutes browsing Tobar an Dualchas, a project which has begun to digitise some of this archive, should help you begin to appreciate the archive’s importance to musicians, artists, scholars, and ethnologists, as well as its untapped potential.

Under the University management’s proposals, all the students and academics in Celtic and Scottish Studies will move from the School’s historic home at 27-29 George Square, to a renovated 50 George Square to house them and most, but not all, of the University’s School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures. There they will only be allocated enough shelf space to take 10% of their library with them.

As part of this transfer to a less secure, smaller library, all the books deemed especially valuable, by staff many of whom cannot actually read the languages many of them are written in, will be removed to a secure Special Collections area. The rest will go to a storage facility in Sighthill with no public access, and with students and academics having to request specific items, a process which is reported to frequently take more than 4 days. The archives themselves, clearly an afterthought for the management, will remain in 27-29 George Square until management reaches a decision on its future.

There is a real chance that this great space could be lost, separating the archives from the staff who know how to navigate them, the students who use them daily and the books that help to make sense of them.  More worryingly is that these plans are moving ahead and the University has no clear plans for what to do with the most valuable archive of its kind in Scotland and in the interim, which could last years, there will be no public access.

It will be no easy task for Scotland to move beyond the Scottish Cringe. The School and its archive have played a vital role in reversing the inferiorization of Scottish oral culture and folklore. This archive is the inheritance of all who choose to make Scotland their home. It should be treated as such.

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Calum MacLeòid
National Collective