Scottish biographical and portraiture library

In order to help protect the health of our staff and visitors during this difficult time we have closed all of our research rooms. During this time we're not taking bookings for individual appointments or group visits.

Location: Scottish National Portrait Gallery
Open by appointment: Closed
Contact: [email protected]

The biographical and portraiture collection comprises some 50,000 items including auction and exhibition catalogues, periodicals, monographs and reference books. The collection exists to support the work of curators, educators, researchers and students.

The primary focus of the collection is the history of Scotland and Scottish society, with particular strengths in biographies of Scots and Scottish portraiture.

The collection of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century auction catalogues contain unique annotations, which provide evidence of the Gallery’s early collecting policy. The periodical collection focuses on Scottish history, art history and photography with holdings dating back to the late nineteenth century.

Search the Library catalogue

When the Scottish National Portrait Gallery opened in 1889 as the world’s first purpose-built portrait gallery, it shared the building with the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and their collection, the Museum of Antiquities.

The architect, Sir Robert Rowand Anderson, designed a room on the south-east side of the second floor for the Society’s Library. The fittings were made by Robert Shillinglaw & Son of Pitt Street, Edinburgh, and in 1891 the room opened to members of the Society.

In 1998 the Museum of Antiquities moved to Chambers Street to form the basis of the National Museum of Scotland.

As part of a recent refurbishment, the architect’s original vision of a series of top-lit galleries on the second floor was reinstated, with the Library painstakingly removed from the top floor and reinstalled in the heart of the gallery on the first floor. Appropriately, this room now holds the Portrait Gallery’s Library and Reference Section.



Book a visit

First-time visitors will be asked to show some form of ID such as a passport or driver's licence.
There is wheelchair access to the library via a lift. 

Groups of up to 10 are welcome to visit the library.
Group visits should be pre-booked at least four weeks in advance.

+44 (0)131 624 6407

[email protected]