I prepared for my research expedition to the National Library of Scotland by entering my information into the online reader’s card application. When I arrived at the National Library the next day, I headed straight to the registration desk. The staff were very helpful and efficient. I showed my student ID card and my passport to confirm my identity, address, and student status, then my picture was snapped. My card was ready in no time. I was given brief instructions on using the archives and the reading rooms and directed to the locker room, where I could check my bag and any other non-approved items (such as ink pens). Fortunately, since we had been acquainted with this information during our class visit to the National Library, I came equipped with my pencil and was prepared to divide my items and check the non-acceptable ones. I headed up the stairs to the reading rooms; this is when things got more complicated.
I have to confess that I had never used an archive before this, so, although I had heard some instructions and tips from class visits and other students and academics, I was a little uncertain about how the process worked. This was complicated even more by the fact that the majority of the items pertaining to Robert Louis Stevenson were not catalogued. So what did this mean to me that day? It meant I didn’t really even know what I was looking for! A bit of a problem when you have to fill out a form stating exactly what you want to see.
My first attempt at making sense of things was to ask at the first floor enquiries desk for suggestions. Wrong choice. I was directed to look through some resources in the reading room, and after that to check upstairs in the Special Collections. After some research in the reading room, I did learn a bit about the contents of Yale’s RLS collection, but not much more. Upstairs in the Special Collections, after some trial and error, I had a bit more luck.
I finally found some tiny books that had one citation printed on each page, with a typewriter, it appeared. Using these books I was able to locate the items in a set of inventories. One of these collections was missing its inventory, but the librarian at the inquiries desk was able to print the inventory out for me so that I was able to request items from it.
Some of the items I looked at were a lot more helpful than others. There were wills of RLS and his mother, Margaret, financial records, and a good bit of correspondence relating to extra funds not included in Margaret’s will. The most thrilling, without a doubt, were the items written by RLS himself – it’s not every day that you get to touch items that came from the hands of famous authors!