One year ago to this very day, I attended my first Painless Introduction. Anne Welsh, UCL lecturer in the Department of Information Studies, spoke on Paper in the brave new digital world: why we still need the physical book and what digital research adds to its history. It being the anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth, and Anne Welsh being Scottish, one of her examples was the free app The Works of Robert Burns, available via the Android Marketplace and iTunes. I’ve just downloaded it, so will post a review once I’ve played with it for a while.
It being January, I’m reflecting on the year just past, which act brought Anne Welsh’s presentation to mind. My being now back in Scotland, on Burns Night to boot, I’m thinking more than ever about the resources available to bring Robert Burns and his work to the masses, from a librarian’s perspective. For Scottish ex-pats (cue the strains of Caledonia) and those abroad interested in finding out more, e-resources are of course essential.
The National Library of Scotland has created a dedicated site to teach people about Burns in addition to showcasing their collections of his writings, which include original manuscripts and printed editions of his work. The Library uses the website to teach those who visit it how to use the physical library, by including shelfmarks in the details of books, and providing links to Library information pages. Thus online resources are used as a gateway to physical collections. There is a good balance between this function and that of giving people immediate access to Burns’ personal history and information about his legacy; unfortunately, there is no fulltext option for any of the poems or letters, so Burns’ own voice is glimpsed only briefly in an excerpt from Tam O’Shanter. I would have included audio files of the poems as well. That said, the site is very easy to navigate and gives a thorough introduction to Burns as a man in addition to providing a list of his various writings and the collections thereof, for those who wish to read him. Fulltext resources are made available through the National Library of Scotland’s Burns site under ‘Legacy’. That this page is called ‘Legacy’, and not the colder, dryer ‘Links’, is telling in itself – it is proof of Burns’ enduring popularity at home and abroad. It references full-text collections, image collections, and international academic resources. I am particularly impressed by Burns’ Scotland, which describes itself thus:
This website has been created by a partnership of museums, galleries, libraries, and other organisations across Scotland which together care for over 36,000 objects. These manuscripts, books, art and artefacts help bring us closer to understanding and appreciating Scotland’s national poet.
There is so much on this particular site that I will need to look at it further before giving it its own blog post. I will leave you to meander through it at your leisure, but I do recommend that you start with To a Mouse, the first Burns poem I learned by heart as a child.
This morning on Radio Scotland, I heard the very welcome news that it will become compulsory for Highers English students (Highers being the Scottish equivalent of A-levels) to answer at least one exam question on a Scottish work of literature. Secondary school staff and students responded positively to this news, as did the Scottish makar (national poet) Liz Lochead. I for one am excited about what this could mean for the development of Scottish literature collections and resources in our libraries.
In the meantime, here’s a guide – featuring Burns himself – to celebrating Burns Night properly.
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right guid willy waught,
For auld lang syne.
(Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns).
Happy Birthday, Mr Burns, and Happy Burns Night to my readers.