The Ballad of Muriel Spark – Scottish Poetry Library event

Wrapped in this liquid turmoil who can say / Which is the mighty echo, which the spray? Muriel Spark’s poetry inspires a musical event at the SPL based on her poetry. Composer Jessica Danz has written a new piece for string quartet. Wed 14 Nov (£8/£6)

Tickets via Eventbrite


Historic Environment Scotland visit report – October 2018

Here’s another view of the excellent visit to HES last week (I am increasingly sorry I missed it!). Words by Morag Ferguson of the Advocates Library, pictures by Lesa Ng of Heriot-Watt University.

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On 8 October 2018 I visited John Sinclair House, at 16 Bernard Terrace Edinburgh for a tour of the Search Rooms and Library at Historic Environment Scotland (HES) organised by ELISA. Neil Fraser, the Public Services Manager kindly hosted our visit and welcomed us with tea, coffee and biscuits which is always a good start.

HES came into being in October 2015 following the amalgamation of Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments. As well as caring for historical buildings such as Edinburgh and Stirling Castle, HES also has responsibility for digital archives such as SCRANCANMORE and NCAP  (National Collection of Aerial Photography). I found this particularly interesting as BBC Scotland is currently showing ‘Scotland from the Sky’ which was produced and presented by one of the HES staff, James Crawford.

In its conservation role HES has responsibility for the Engine Shed in Stirling which is a central hub for building and conservation professionals with a visitor centre. I’m originally from Stirling so now plan to visit the Engine Shed on my next trip home. Neil took us on a tour of the Search Rooms and Library where Joe McAllister, the Access Officer had laid out some interesting drawings of Craigend house in Renfrewshire. The Search Rooms and Library are open to the Public Tuesday to Friday 9.30-4.30 where you can browse open access items such as books and photographs but it is best to give advance notice of your visit. They provide a range of copying facilities and permit self-copying (cameras or phones) of certain material. If you need to see original historic drawings and manuscripts, these can be ordered in advance.

Thereafter we were taken to the archives to view the collections stored where Architects firms can choose to deposit their drawings and materials. We also visited their conservation workshop where the archivist explained the delicate work required to repair older materials. Apparently there has been a shift back to using ancient Japanese techniques for conservation repairs as these have proved to be more durable and less harmful than some of the more modern methods.

Finally in the foyer we had a chance to view some of the newer publications produced by HES. I spotted a copy of “Bloody Scotland” a compilation of short stories by Crime writers at the Bloody Scotland Festival in Stirling. I thought it surprising that HES should be involved in the publication of this book but Neil explained that all the murders took place in Scottish built heritage, which explained the connection.  I thoroughly enjoyed this ELISA visit which enabled me to learn a great deal more about the work and responsibilities of Historic Environment Scotland so special thanks to Neil Fraser of HES and Jennifer Higgins from the National Library of Scotland for organising this.

Leith Miscellany goes online – part 1

Ooh, this is interesting! My people were Leithers so I’ll be investigating this for sure. Thanks @TalesOfOneCity

Tales of One City

We’ve recently undertaken a large project to digitise and make available online thirteen albums relating to Leith. We’ve named them the Leith Miscellany volumes I – XIII as the contents cover basically everything and anything to do with Leith. They provide an extraordinary and unique insight into the social history of the area.

Originally collected in shop-bought photograph albums, the sticky album pages and damp had caused minor damage to some of the contents, so as well as digitising the photographs, postcards, presscuttings and ephemera, we have remounted the items on archival cardboard and rehoused them in conservation boxes.

The Fish Quay, – looking up-river, c1830

This is the first in a series of three blog posts highlighting the material and covers volumes I – IV. Inside, you get a real feel of what it was like in the 19th and early 20th centuries, with photographs of cargo boats and…

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The Wallace Letter, November 1300

What a treasure! A 700 year old letter from King Philip IV of France introducing Sir William Wallace to the king’s agents at the Papal court in Rome. Displayed by the National Records of Scotland for Doors Open Day this year.

Open Book

Wallace letter scanLast Saturday, as part of Doors Open Day 2018, National Records of Scotland displayed the Wallace letter – a 700-year-old message from the King of France, one of only two surviving documents with a personal connection to Scottish historical icon William Wallace.

Discovered in the Tower of London in the mid-1800s and now part of the collection of The National Archives, this small and seemingly innocuous letter contains details that can tell us much about the people and politics of this turbulent era, and about one of the most famous figures in Scotland’s history.

Letter from King Philip IV of France to his agents at the Papal court, 7 November 1300

Translation of Latin text

Philip by the grace of God King of the French to our loved and faithful our agents appointed to the Roma Court, greetings and love. We command you to request the Supreme Pontiff to consider…

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Album of Victorian travel photography

The latest Capital Collections exhibition from @TalesOfOneCity

Tales of One City

By the mid 1800s, photography was bringing foreign destinations closer to home. Previously, if you wanted to know what far off lands looked like, you were reliant on descriptions or artistic interpretation. Photography provided an unprecedented ‘true’ picture of unknown places.

Street in Chester

The growth in photography allowed armchair travellers to obtain a record of the world beyond their experience. It also encouraged those fortunate enough to have the means to travel, to venture to new exotic destinations where they could collect photographic mementoes of their holidays.

By the late 1800s, several professional photographers employed teams armed with heavy cameras, equipment and glass plates who would travel across Britain, Europe and further afield to China, Japan and the USA photographing popular tourist attractions and daily life in these unfamilar locations. Some employed sales representatives who would visit stationers and newsagents shops persuading them to stock and sell their company’s souvenir views.


Our latest

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Identity Theft: a modern cautionary tale

We recently learned of someone – we’ll call her Lesley – who became the victim of an identity theft scam we’d never encountered before.

For the purposes of helping others avoid the same fate, and with permission, here’s Lesley’s story

On Wednesday Lesley received a text message from her mobile provider saying she’d changed her account password and then another saying the provider was sorry she was leaving them! Lesley immediately phoned to state she was not leaving them, nor had she changed her password.


They confirmed that someone had just been taken through their vetting process as her and was currently in the process of cancelling her account and had been given her PAK number to give to a new provider in order to retain the mobile number. Although the provider locked her account and reset the password, the number transfer had already been agreed. This number transfer would occur at 11am the next day.


Her phone provider sent a new SIM card and advised Lesley to contact her bank immediately.


Essentially, from what we gathered, the fraud happens thus:

  1. If someone is calling from a registered number with the bank, banks will use this as a secondary security measure to confirm someone’s ID, often not asking as many vetting questions.
  2. If you can’t remember your online banking password, the bank will send a text is to the registered phone number (more usually a mobile) of a secure code to input in order for you to change the password and gain access.
    • Criminals usually rely on phoning a customer pretending to be from the bank and asking them to read out the code sent to the phone back to them.
    • What happened to Lesley is an attempt to bypass the human element by taking the registered phone number to therefore receive the text directly to a phone in their possession.


Lesley left work and went to her nearest bank branch.


The bank was initially unhelpful: “Since there is no fraudulent act happened at the moment, we can only make a note to look out for it”.


However, explaining the activity which was likely to go ahead once the number transfer was complete, the assistant put Lesley in touch with their fraud dept. who agreed to shut down all Lesley’s banking as a precaution. The fraud dept. explained this type of fraud attempt has begun only in the past 2 weeks and has been aggressive while phone providers and banks look at ways to close it down.


On Thursday at 11am Lesley lost her number. Within the hour she received emails saying that her email password had been changed. Again, asking for a password reset triggers a coded text to a registered number. Lesley managed to regain her email pretty quickly (redirecting codes to a newly created email account) and remove her ‘old’ number from her original email account.


Even though there was no hint of activity in it, Lesley also tried to deregister her number from her Apple account. This proved virtually impossible without again sending a confirmation text to the original number, or replacing it with another mobile number (which she did not yet have). As a precaution Lesley removed payment method information in the meantime.




The phone provider is actively investigating a breach of their procedure and also data. It transpires that, correctly, the people were unable to prove they were Lesley earlier on the Wednesday primarily because they were not calling from her phone number. They failed to get any further. Disastrously, in a second attempt on the Wednesday, although still not calling from the correct phone number (so no material difference to the first time), they were passed as genuine. Someone is likely to have made a very grave error by not following due process.


Once Lesley’s ‘old’ number has been used on a provider’s platform this is flagged as being used fraudulently and it will be returned to Lesley. This can take between 5 and 30 days. Once back in the possession of Lesley, she will ask for it and her previous data held to be destroyed.


Currently Lesley can only use her bank accounts by going to branch with her passport and being given a secure line to the fraud dept. Once she has control of her phone number again, the bank can lift the shields and deregister the phone number. Lesley is also getting new bank cards (again, as a precaution).


Lesley now has a new mobile number and will be very careful aboutwhere she chooses to register it in future, as well as looking to direct bank and phone provider email into separate email accounts.


All in all – although it seems nothing but inconvenience has occurred – it was an extremely unsettling time and I dearly don’t wish it on anyone.

We hope no-one else is affected by this scam  😦

ELISA mini-quiz: Emily Prince, Scottish Poetry Library

Our first mini-quiz in a while comes from Emily Prince from the Scottish Poetry Library:

Your name:  Emily Prince AALIA (CP)
Library:  Scottish Poetry Library
Job Title:  Librarian


How did you become a librarian/what was your career path?
After completing an undergraduate degree in creative writing in Melbourne, Australia, I was looking into opportunities for further study. I’ve always loved books, and was working casually as a shelver in the university library where I had undertaken my degree. A friend from work had enrolled in a distance learning Masters in Information Studies at Charles Sturt University (also in Australia) and convinced me to give it a try – I fell in love with it almost immediately. Since graduating in 2014, I have worked in public and academic libraries in Australia, before moving to Scotland in 2016. I worked at an academic library in Scotland before going full-time at the Scottish Poetry Library (SPL).


Did you need any specialist training for your current role?
The SPL has a very unique collection, and is not governed by any larger organisation or council, so we have an unusual amount of autonomy in how we manage our collections. This also means, however, that the collections benefit from a wealth of specialist knowledge. I was very lucky when I started to be working with staff who had spent decades developing these collections, and also got a crash course in Scottish poetry while doing so. Constantly reading poetry helps with ongoing training!


What makes your library/department unique?
The focus of our collection! Poetry libraries are not common, and we are a national authority on Scottish poetry. We also have a largely physical collection, mainly due to lack of funds to support digital resources. This means I still update and maintain collections that some people might refer to as ‘old-fashioned’, like our cuttings collection which is largely comprised of actual newspaper and magazine clippings focused on Scottish poetry that we manually locate, cut out, and catalogue.


What is your favourite aspect of the job?
Working with poetry, and cataloguing. There aren’t too many libraries these days where the cataloguing is done in-house, and it is one of my favourite activities!


What has been your most complex/funny/unusual enquiry?
Where do I start? I hold lead responsibility for the enquiry service, and my favourites are the ones where people ask you to identify a fragment of poetry that they have forgotten the origin of. It’s usually a 50/50 chance that we will actually locate an answer for some of the more unusual or rare fragments, but we do our best! Other enquiries come from students doing dissertations on Scottish poets. I did some extensive work for an academic locating mentions of grandmothers in the work of Jackie Kay. There are also ‘lost’ poems that we have been asked about several times over the years that still elude us – and one of them is about the ‘cludgie [toilet] on the stair’ in a Glasgow tenement. If anyone has heard of this one, do get in touch!

Thank you so much for that Emily! Most entertaining and informative. Please contact Emily at the SPL, dear readers, if you have any information on that mysterious cludgie poem…

And, if you’d like to submit a mini-quiz of your own, you can find the details here: mini-quiz.