Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Don't Forget Your Roots

When Edinburgh was announced as the first City of Literature, many people assumed some money would be put into promoting the fact that the Scottish capital has a rich and diverse history in the world of literature.

All through history, writers have lived in and been fascinated by the city of Edinburgh; from greats such as Sir Walter Scott and Arthur Conan Doyle to JK Rowling and Ian Rankin. The world famous Edinburgh International Book Festival attracts thousands of readers and big name guest writers from all over the world each year.

Yet Edinburgh still suffers from a lack of political foresight. The Writers' Museum in the Lawnmarket, provides access to the collections of Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns and you would imagine that one of its greatest sons, Robert Louis Stevenson, would also be remembered in such a way.

Some of the finest Stevenson artefacts, including photographs of his life in Scotland, France, California and Samoa, letters and a pair of the author's boots, are kept under lock and key because there are not enough staff to attend them.

The museum is run by Edinburgh City Council, but the Stevenson collection has been closed for 75 per cent of the time in recent years because of staffing shortages. Stevenson fans are outraged that the Council allows this to happen, particularly while the city is at the centre of the world’s literary stage.

Their frustration is borne out of the mis-management of Edinburgh Council, when this summer it spent thousands of pounds of tax-payers money implementing road restrictions in the city centre, only to announce they were reversing them last week because they weren’t working.

Elaine Greig, Curator of the Writers' Museum, said “Stevenson is by far the most popular writer with visitors. However, the Stevenson collection has always been kept in the basement and, as a consequence, is the first place to shut when staffing was low.”

Edinburgh's Lord Provost, Lesley Hinds, promised to install extra staff at the museum following the complaints. She said: "I hope it will be more accessible and available than at the moment."

The council said a receptionist had been deployed to the museum, allowing two attendants to staff all areas, and it hoped this would become permanent.

Ian Nimmo, Chairman of the Robert Louis Stevenson Club, said “One of the main conditions that the RLS Club agreed with the city when it handed over its collection for safe keeping, was that it would be on public view."

"Too often, the Stevenson Room at the Writers' Museum is closed and hundreds of visitors with a Stevenson interest are being turned away disappointed. As the City of Literature, Edinburgh must surely do better."


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