Curator Colin McIlroy in the stacks of the National Library of Scotland-2

Help us uncover the stories behind the stories

The National Library of Scotland is appealing to literature lovers to help us reveal the diaries, drafts and doodles, letters, lists and personal papers of three of Scotland’s most renowned modern writers. 

The Library recently acquired new additions to the archives of Alasdair Gray, George Mackay Brown and James Kelman. But sifting through this huge “treasure trove” will require many hours of vital cataloguing work – a task that requires the full attention of a dedicated curator.  

We’re asking Scotland’s readers to help fund the cataloguing and curation of these precious papers, many of which have not been seen by anyone other than the authors, and make them available to the public as soon as possible. This could be in the form of an exhibition, as well as granting access at the Library’s reading rooms to anyone with a Library card. 

The plea for support has secured the backing of Sir Ian Rankin, who donated his own archive to the National Library of Scotland in 2019. He also funded a post to catalogue its contents, to ensure the archive was available at the Library’s reading rooms as soon as possible. This donation also enabled the Library to curate a display relating to Rankin’s life and work, The Rankin Files. 

He said:  

“Cataloguing is a large (and largely invisible) job that remains absolutely indispensable to the National Library of Scotland's work.  I know from first-hand how a skilled cataloguer can create order from a chaos of files, folders and scraps of paper.  That's why I support NLS's fundraising drive – please do join me.”  

Manuscripts Curator Dr Colin McIIroy said:  

“A writer’s archive gives us insight into the person beyond what we read in their books – it’s the story behind the stories.  

“We acquire these archives for the Scottish people and to preserve them for the nation. It’s so important that we catalogue these wonderful collections so that we can learn what is there and make them available to the public. 

“These collections are an integral part of Scottish culture. They deal with recent and contemporary events, reflecting on life in Scotland, and beyond.” 

Assistant Curator Jamie McIntosh, who has been examining the papers, added: “The archives are a treasure trove. They show you not only these authors’ whole creative process, but also who the person is.” 

He also noted that interest in Alasdair Gray is soaring among a new audience due to an upcoming Hollywood movie based on his novel ‘Poor Things’. The film stars Oscar-nominated actors Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo and Willem Dafoe.  

To donate to the Library’s appeal, visit 

Contact Information

Emma Cairns

Notes to editors

Contact Information 

Emma Cairns

National Library of Scotland 

+447500 553575 

National Library of Scotland 

The National Library of Scotland is a major European research library and one of the world’s leading centres for the study of Scotland and the Scots – an information treasure trove for Scotland’s knowledge, history and culture. The Library’s collections are of international importance. Key formats include rare books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, music, moving images and official publications. 

The Library holds more than 30 million physical items dating back more than 1000 years as well as a growing library of digital material. Every week the Library collects around 5,000 items. Most of these are received under ‘legal deposit’ legislation, allowing the Library to claim a copy of everything published in the UK and Ireland. / @natlibscot / facebook