The light in the North

The light in the North

Behind the scenes at University of Aberdeen Special Collections.

Sunrise over the Sir Duncan Rice Library...It’s a regular feature on Facebook, usually courtesy of students taking advantage of the 24-hour opening in the run-up to exams, but still finding time to be captivated by the red dawn sliding up over the North Sea, reminding them that the university and the region they chose has always looked beyond.

When Her Majesty the Queen arrived in an Aberdeen downpour, in September 2012, to formally open the dramatic Danish-designed cube of glass lighting up the west side of the University of Aberdeen’s King’s College campus, it was in truth a new dawn. Treasures collected over many centuries, from Aberdeenshire to Alaska, would now benefit from a 21st-century environment designed to showcase them to a wider audience while safeguarding their precious vulnerability.

Three years on, much has changed. Over the last year alone, thousands of members of the public of all ages have joined researchers and specialists from across the globe in getting engaged with magnificent collections which chart the story of humankind - locally, across the northern latitudes, and also across the world. Now housed in climatically-controlled facilities, the holdings comprise more than 230,000 rare printed books and 5000 archival collections, with material dating as far back as the 3rd century BC. But what do those entrusted with the custodianship of such material actually do in a typical day? Leopard caught-up with the highly-skilled team, led by the head of Special Collections, Siobhán Convery, to find out.

A convivial Dickens of a morning “People may think we are all about the past - but to make our public programme such a success we spend a lot of time planning for the future.”

A highly-experienced curator, Siobhán has been with the University for 12 years, following nine years at Aberdeen City Archives. She has an obvious and infectious passion for her job.

“We started the day with a planning meeting for our big exhibition next year, and we know it’s one the public here will love,” she says. “We hold one of the finest collections in the world of the works of Charles Dickens, including first editions of all the novels, copies of his periodicals, and a wide range of additional material. And we also have an internationally-renowned emeritus professor, Paul Schlicke, here at Aberdeen, with whom we will be working to bring this exhibition to life.”

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*This article was published in the Summer/Autumn edition of Leopard Magazine, click here to find out more.