Edinburgh Bookshelf

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

As longtime readers of Wandering Educators know, I love Scotland. I am always on the lookout for great Scottish resources for our readers, and am pleased to share a new one with you! Edinburghbookshelf.org.uk is a searchable collection of books and pictures about Edinburgh's history. WOW! You can peruse a plethora of ancient documents and pictures - to enter the site is to get lost in history.  Edinburgh Bookshelf was created by Peter Gerard, who is also a documentary filmmaker. His film company, Accidental Media, is an incredible resource.   I was lucky enough to be able to sit down and talk with Peter about his site, books, history, and more. Here's what he had to say...



WE:  Please tell us about Edinburgh Bookshelf...

PG: Edinburgh Bookshelf is a free educational resource providing high-quality scans of the images and text from Hamish Horsburgh's amazing collection of out-of-print illustrated books on Edinburgh's history.



WE: What was the genesis of the site?

PG: Hamish came to me a few years ago with the six volumes of "Old and New\ Edinburgh" by James Grant. He had received these books from his uncle Bill Smith (who unfortunately passed this year). Initially Hamish had the books scanned so he could read them without damaging them (they are about 130 years old!).

Hamish then said: "As someone who has lived in Edinburgh for more than 50 years, the illustrations still thrill and excite me no matter how often I
look at them. For this reason I wanted to put them online in such a format
that Edinburgh school children and students might easily download the images or text whilst researching the history, architecture, society of
Edinburgh's Old or New Towns."

I came up with an interactive way of reading the books and downloading the
pictures and we created oldandnewedinburgh.co.uk in the Spring of 2006 and
were pleased by its growing success over the last three years. By the time
we launched edinburghbookshelf.org.uk last year we were getting
approximately 500,000 requests each month from about 2,500 visitors from
all over the world.

After the success of Old and New Edinburgh, Edinburgh Bookshelf came about because Hamish particularly loved John Kay's illustrations in Old and New Edinburgh. He then searched secondhand bookshops for a copy of the rare massive two-volume set of "Kay's Originals". Along the way, Hamish
collected a few other great books, which make up the rest of the Edinburgh Bookshelf.

WE: How were you able to get the permissions to have these books on the

PG: The books we choose are out of copyright and we own the scans. We share the text and scans with a Creative Commons license.



WE: Edinburgh is such a special place - why is its history so important?

When you are in Edinburgh you cannot avoid its history. It just hits you in
the face everywhere you look. But if you look a bit closer there is so much
more to discover. I have lived here for 8 years and each day I discover new
bits of history hidden throughout the city. These books and their
illustrations have enlighten us endlessly about this beautiful city we call

Some of the testimonials we receive demonstrate just how important
Edinburgh is to people all over the world: "I'm writing to you with tears in my eyes. I can't articulate my feelings upon finding the volumes of Old and New Edinburgh online. What an incredible gift you've given to anyone doing research on Edinburgh. You've allowed me to see pictures of the church where my great-grandfather was baptized, pictures of the street where his
family lived, and so much more. Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
-- from Linda in California



WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

PG: We have particularly enjoyed seeing how people search for the books. We can see that people are finding very particular pieces of information by
searching Google and ending up on Edinburgh Bookshelf. The details they are researching would be very hard to find elsewhere on the internet, and our index has worked surprisingly well.

Another testimonial:
"Your website is truly amazing... it will change the nature of my research
dramatically...  It's such a pleasure to be able to 'dip in' to a book like
this without having to go to the British Library reading rooms."
-- from Hymie in the UK

I have made a lot of websites for companies large and small, but for me
oldandnewedinburgh.co.uk and edinburghbookshelf.org.uk are my most
successful web-projects, simply because I can feel their true value and see
people getting real benefits from these wonderful, free resources. I
they represent the spirit of what the internet should be about.

WE: Thanks so much, Peter, for sharing Edinburgh Bookshelf with us. I love your site - BRAVO!!

For more information, please see:


and more on Peter at Accidental Media:



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