Exploring Edinburgh’s Libraries: The Scottish Poetry Library

The Scottish Poetry Library (SPL) truly is one of Edinburgh’s hidden treasures. Even after a short visit to the SPL you will leave knowing that this is a place for everyone “to be inspired in, create in, and study in,” in the words of one of the SPL’s librarians. Established in 1999 and refurbished in 2015, the Scottish Poetry Library is a beautiful space that is frequented by poetry lovers and aspiring architects alike.

It feels appropriate to quote Marlowe when he says that literature contains “infinite riches in a small room” when talking about this library. In a sense, the building itself is like a piece of literature. 

Their books are contained in quite a small space, but this does not stop the Library from offering a vast selection of works. From one well-positioned armchair in just one space, you can see anthologies of poems hailing from across the world, with books of Scottish, Scandinavian, and European poetry. While some may feel overwhelmed by the 20,000 works of poetry-related literature, the staff at this library have succeeded in creating a remarkably welcoming atmosphere that gently encourages everyone to read poetry.

The Library’s motto, “bringing people and poetry together,” could not be more fitting. From the £1-postal service, to the steady stream of events on offer, there is no missed opportunity to get people into poetry. The Library offers a free enquiry service, where you can approach a librarian with a multitude of tasks, whether it be finding a long-lost poem from childhood, or helping you in academic research.

There is an inter-generational appeal to the place. The children’s corner is filled with brightly coloured books, and the monthly poetry for Peanuts event invites babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers “to bring their grown-ups along” to the Library. If the grown-ups want to attend events unsupervised, then there are regular poetry reading and writing groups on offer. Their calendar, available via their website, is packed with exhibitions and events featuring guest poets. 

It can often feel like poetry is quite inaccessible; it is a literary form that requires the reader to come prepared to provide a fair amount of interpretation. The SPL has succeeded in making poetry-reading feel normal, and I would not hesitate to recommend anyone to just pop in for a visit.

The invitation of the SPL is to just “come in and talk to us.” Whether you are a seasoned poetry reader or someone who simply just doesn’t get the whole thing, I can say with certainty that you will be welcomed by the SPL.

Photograph: Carlos Finlay.

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