National library seeks donations to conserve ‘fragile’ newspaper collection

The National Library of Scotland has warned that around 65% of its “fragile” newspaper collection could be lost without urgent action, as it launched a fundraising campaign.

Crime writer and former journalist Val McDermid is among those backing the drive at the library in Edinburgh, saying that without a newspaper archive “we are poorer as a nation”.

The library has been collecting newspapers since 1925 but its collections date to the earliest newspaper printed in Scotland in 1641.

However newspapers are not designed to be kept long and are printed on cheap, fragile paper that degrades quickly, meaning much of the library’s collection of 961 titles has suffered significant deterioration.

It has now launched a Save Our Stories appeal which hopes to raise at least £50,000 to enable conservators to carry out urgent repairs to the most damaged newspapers and prepare them to be digitised.

Edition of The Scotsman
The collection includes the first edition of The Scotsman (Alison Gibson/National Library of Scotland/PA)

McDermid revealed an archive plays a key role in her next Karen Pirie book.

She said: “The seventh Karen Pirie novel starts with an eagle-eyed librarian spotting something very odd in an archive bequeathed by a recently deceased author. It leads to a major cold case investigation.

“But it’s not just writers of fiction for whom the newspaper archive is a vital resource.

“Historians, cultural commentators, investigative journalists – they all rely on this valuable resource to paint a picture of our past as it was experienced by the people who lived it. Without it we are poorer as a nation.”

Titles in the collection range from the Press and Journal and The Courier to the Highland News, Orkney Times, Buchan Observer and Ayrshire Post, and it includes “rare gems” such as the first copy of The Scotsman, dated January 25, 1817.

The earliest newspaper printed in Scotland, The Heads Of Severall Proceedings In The present Parliament, which reprinted news from London, is also in the collection.

The newspapers are stored in special conditions (Alison Gibson/National Library of Scotland/PA)
The newspapers are stored in special conditions (Alison Gibson/National Library of Scotland/PA)

Many of the older papers were already in poor condition when they came to the library, and while the institution’s climate and PH-controlled storage can slow their degradation, it cannot stop it outright.

Analysis by the library has found that without urgent intervention, 65% of its newspapers – and the unique stories they contain – will be lost forever.

Conservator Claire Hutchison, who is working with the most at-risk papers, said: “Our history is in our newspapers and they are the most requested items in our collections.

“But our newspaper collections are incredibly fragile and very brittle. We’re fighting a losing battle to carry out preservation work. There are limits to what we can achieve, but I can repair tears and treat paper so it can be digitised.

“We’re also working with local libraries to carry out conservation work on their collections. These papers have local histories that aren’t recorded anywhere else. This is such important work.”

Anyone who wants to donate to the campaign can do so by visiting