Getting to know the Main Library For school of social and Political Science (SPS)

The Main Library is the biggest library at the University

As a student in the School of Social and Political Science (SPS) this is the Library where you will find the majority of print books and journals you need for your research and study.

The Main Library is open 24/7 for most of the year.

You need your University student ID card to get access to the building so make sure you always have this on you.

The Main Library holds books, journals, DVDs, archives, manuscripts, special collections and more.

It also contains study space, computing labs, printing, photocopying & scanning facilities, group study pods and rooms, lockers, Library Cafe, uCreate and uCreate Studio (a community makerspace). There is WiFi throughout the building and you'll find toilets on every floor. On the third floor you'll also find the student Careers Service, Disability Service and Counselling service.

There are 8 floors in the Main Library and you have access to them all, from the study space on lower ground floor to the Centre for Research Collections on the 6th floor.

Edinburgh University Library, 1968. Sir Basil Spence, Glover & Ferguson. © The University of Edinburgh

You enter and exit the building on the ground floor.

Directly opposite the entrance gates you'll see the Helpdesk. The Helpdesk is the best place if you have any questions about using the Main Library and its collections or facilities or if you have any questions regarding using Library services or resources in general.

Library Helpdesk, ground floor, Main Library

HUB Collection, ground floor

The entrance next to Helpdesk takes you into the HUB Collection. Most of the essential and recommended readings for your courses will be found here.

HUB = High Use Books

There are two loan types in the HUB:

Reserve = 3 hour loan

Short Loan = 1 week loan

Books with Reserve stickers on spine can only be borrowed for 3 hours and cannot be renewed.

You must borrow books on the self-issue machines in the HUB before you can take them out of the HUB area.

You'll also find int he HUB

Laptop Loans cabinet

The books in the HUB (and on 2nd and 3rd floor of Main Library) are shelved according to the Library of Congress classification system. This is when you get letters followed by numbers as the shelfmarks e.g. JA66 Hey.

The books are shelved alphabetically according to the letters, then within that numerically and then alphabetically with the last 3 letters.

Some shelfmark areas you may want to browse as students in the Social and Political Science are:

GN = Anthropology

H = Social Sciences (covers a huge range of subjects such as sociology, social welfare, social policy, social history, economics, finance, commerce, statistics, etc.)

J = Political Science (including JC = Political Theory, JX = International Law and JZ = International Relations)

RA = Public Health (also look at shelfmarks starting WA)

T = Technology

Self issue and self return

There are self-issue and self-return machines in the Main Library to allow you to quickly and easily borrow and return books.

There are self-issue machines on the ground floor, 2nd floor, 3rd floor and 4th floor. You must have your student ID card with you to issue books.

Left: Self-issue machines in the HUB, ground floor. Right: One of the self-return machines on the ground floor.

The self-return machines are located on the ground floor - 2 are next to the entrance to the HUB and 1 is next to the Reception desk at front door of Main Library. You do not need your student ID card to return books.

On the ground floor you'll also find the IT Support Desk, group study pods (for 3 or more people), Quick Use Computers, a small computing lab and study area, exhibition hall and the Library Cafe. The ground floor does tend to be a bit nosier than some of the other floors in the Main Library.

Study space and Quick Use Computers on ground floor, Main Library.

1st floor

There are no books or journals on the 1st floor. The 1st floor is a mix of computer labs, uCreate, informal study spaces, individual study space, group study pods, uCreate Studio and Accessible Study rooms (allocated through the Student Disability Service). You'll find more MFPs on the 1st floor as well as poster printing facilities in uCreate. There are also some training and meeting rooms on the 1st floor.

1st floor, Main Library

2nd floor

As students in the School of Social and Political Science you will spend a lot of time on the 2nd floor as this is where the majority of books on your subject areas, and associated subject areas, are shelved.

You'll find books with shelfmarks starting A - PB on the 2nd floor.

You'll also find on the 2nd floor study space, computing labs, DiscoverEd search points, self-issue machines and MFPs.

Can't find a book on the shelf? Check the Recent Returns shelves. When books are returned they are put here first before they get re-shelved. Always check here first if you can't find a book on the shelf.

Recent Returns, 2nd floor, Main Library. You will also find Recent Returns shelves on the 3rd floor.

3rd floor

The 3rd floor is very similar in layout and facilities as the 2nd floor. On this floor you'll find the books with shelfmarks starting PC - Z. The 3rd floor also holds the East Asian Collection, one of the biggest collections of East Asian books in the UK.

The 3rd floor is home to some useful student services: Careers Service, Student Disability Service and the student Counselling Service.

3rd floor, Main Library.

The 4th floor is where you will find all the Main Library's print journals.

Print journals always have a shelfmark that starts Per. (short for Periodical) followed by a decimal number. On the 4th floor you will find journals with shelfmarks Per..0 to Per..9.

As well as the journals there are a smaller collection of older books that use different shelfmarks than Library of Congress e.g. look out for the Centre for African Studies (CAS) book and journal collection on the 4th floor, their shelfmarks all start C.A.S.

C.A.S. book and journal collection, 4th floor, Main Library

The 4th floor also has study spaces, computing labs, self-issue machines, DiscoverEd search points and MFPs.

5th floor - shhh!

The 5th floor has no books, journals or computers on it. It is a silent study area and half of the floor is designated study space for postgraduate students.

The 5th floor has fantastic views out over Edinburgh and is a popular study space but do remember it is a silent study space.

5th floor, Main Library

6th floor

Centre for Research Collections (CRC)

The CRC is the main space for anyone using the University of Edinburgh's historic and special collections. The CRC is open to all researchers, including students, staff, visiting academics and members of the public.

Collections include:

Patrick Geddes with members of the Department of Sociology and Civics and members of the class of 1919 or 1920. © The University of Edinburgh
Celtic Psalter, 11th C., f.6r. © The University of Edinburgh
'The Basic Material Is Not The Word But The Letter', Nathan Coley, 2018.
Take Care Campaign postcard. LHSA Ref: GD22

Lower Ground Floor

The Lower Ground Floor has study space, computers, MFPs and bookable group study rooms. The group study rooms can seat up to 4 or 6 people (depending on the room) and must be booked via MyEd. These rooms are very popular so do make sure you book.

Lower ground floor, Main Library

There's more than just the Main Library

Although you'll spend a lot of time at the Main Library there are 10 other site libraries that you can use and there are other open access computing labs available. You may need to access books or other materials at these libraries or you may simply be looking for alternative study space. The Main Library is very popular and gets very busy so it can be useful to get to know these other libraries and alternative study spaces now.

Left: Interior, New College Library. Right: Exterior, Noreen and Kenneth Murray Library, King's Buildings


If you have any questions about using the Main Library, library resources, facilities or services then contact the Library Helpdesk.

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Did you know?

The Main Library is over 50 years old. An A-listed building, it was designed by Sir Basil Spence. As you can see while much has changed in 50 years there is much that is still the same!

From plans to building to completed Main Library building. © The University of Edinburgh

However, the University Library is a lot older than 50 years and older than the University itself. The University Library was founded in 1580 when Edinburgh lawyer Clement Litill donated his collection of books (276 volumes). These books are still held in the Library.

All donated volumes had above stamped on their title pages at time of bequest. © the University of Edinburgh


All photos either © University of Edinburgh or author's own.