What is a Librarian? James Hamilton on the Collector Librarian of The Signet Library, David Laing.

On 27th of October, in a session organised by the Centre for the History of the Book, James Hamilton, the Research Principal of the WS Society, introduced David Laing and his history as the Principal Librarian of the Signet Library. With a strong background in the book trade and bibliography, Laing was already a leading figure in Edinburgh’s intellectual elite as a member of the Bannatyne Club and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. After his attempt, and subsequent failure, to become Librarian to the Faculty of Advocates, Laing accepted a role as the Principal Librarian of the Signet Library, employed by the Society of Writers of the Signet. His appointment set a precedent in the Society history – never before had a non-lawyer been employed to manage their collections. It would set Laing on the collision course that followed and open the door towards the controversy and conflicts that followed him in his later years. His career and its impact on the Signet Library opens up a lot of questions regarding the past, present and future role of the librarian and how it could affect the way we, as scholars of materiality, “read” a library and its collections.

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