Spent most of my morning trying to understand the catalogues of the NLS, after it had been explained to me on my first day. It wasn’t until I realized that the physical catalogue was organized by temporal layers–first the advocates’ library holdings, then manuscript volumes with indices for individual volumes, then a wall of little binders of recent accessions–that I began to understand how to find anything at all.
But that only helped me with the manuscripts. For eighteenth-century newspapers, I had to learn everything all over again, without any self-evident way to search for those periodical holdings as a block. The librarians there were helpful, but were unsure themselves how to find this group of materials. And once again, there was no obvious way to find out whether there might be digitized or microform copies of the same newspapers I’d laboriously discovered in the catalogue. [UPDATE: yes, of course there were]
At a certain point, though, I had to stop trying to learn more about the catalogue, and just concentrate on reading what I had in front of me. That’s when I realized I had gathered far more than I could ever read and takes notes on in my remaining time in Edinburgh.
In that panicked instant (how am I ever going to read all this?), it dawned on me just how odd an experience it was to read eighteenth-century periodicals in this rushed manner, one volume after another, instead of bit by bit a week at a time.
This led me to another thought: what kind of reader actually returns to the bound volumes of a periodical’s full run? And why do it, precisely? Is it to relive previous readings? Or is it simply a provincial practice of filling bookshelves in the most convenient way, when books are expensive, and new books not so common?