Reading Room at Modern Two

Location: Modern Two (Level 1)
Opening hours: Open by advance appointment, Monday to Friday, 10am–1pm and 2pm–4.30pm
Book a visit:  [email protected]
Our Research Facilities are open by appointment. Please do get in touch directly with any enquiries or requests to visit. To avoid disappointment, we suggest you allow at least two weeks’ notice when booking.

Visitors to the Reading Room have access to an outstanding resource on the history and theory of art from 1300 to the present. Over 100,000 library items, 6,000 artists’ and special books and over 140 archival holdings can be viewed by appointment.


The library at Modern Two covers the history and theory of art from the early fourteenth century to the present. We have around 100,000 items accessible in the Reading Room, including monographs, catalogues raisonnés, exhibition catalogues, periodicals, auction sales catalogues, audio-visual material, accession files and ephemera. Our accession files (sometimes referred to as dossiers) are a unique curatorial resource on every work in the collection, from Titian to Tanning.

The library has been developed to support research into the Collection and our holdings reflect this, with particular strengths in Scottish and European art, and Dada and Surrealism.

Search the Library catalogue


The archive contains over 140 holdings relating to twentieth and twenty-first century artists, collectors and art organisations, and is particularly rich in papers relating to art and artists in Scotland. These include documents, drawings, sketchbooks, correspondence, photographs, textiles, artists’ materials and tools, diaries, newscuttings, audio-visual material and other printed ephemera. There are significant holdings on Eduardo Paolozzi, Joan Eardley and Richard Demarco.

The archive also includes primary materials of international importance in the Roland Penrose and Gabrielle Keiller collections of Dada and Surrealism, including materials relating to the 1936 International Surrealism Exhibition held in London and correspondence with key figures in the movement.

Tour of Artist's Books at the National Galleries of Scotland

Kerry Watson is the Librarian at the Modern, and is responsible looking after the collections of books and archive material housed in Modern Two. Books by artists make up part of that collection, and here Kerry shows us some highlights. Artist's books are another form of artistic expression. Sometimes that are the work of one artist, others are collaborations between artist, poets, writers or friends of the artist. Artist's books are often produced in small numbers and can include anything from written words, prints, collage, photographs, cut-outs and host of other material. Kerry looks at an early book with contributions by Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962), and also examines a books by Claude Cahun (1894-1954).

Special books 

Over 6,000 artists’ and special books are also available to view in the Reading Room. This collection contains many of the most significant books by artists of the 20th and 21st centuries and includes a world class collection of Dada and Surrealist publications drawn from the book collections of Roland Penrose and Gabrielle Keiller. New works are added each year, with recent acquisitions including Tauba Auerbach’s [2,3], 2011, and Natalya Goncharova’s Worldbackwards, 1912.

Our artists’ and special books are searchable on the archive catalogue.

Search the Archive catalogue

Archival records relating to the history of the National Galleries of Scotland are held at the National Records of Scotland. These comprise of committee minutes and papers, building records, letter books, correspondence and miscellaneous papers dating from1727 - 1930.

Our archive at the National Records of Scotland

Toyen, Collage for André Breton’s Spojité nádoby 1934.
Catherine Anne Hiley, Hrafn Floki 2013

Visiting the Reading Room

The Reading Room is located on level 1 of Modern Two and is managed by a small team of archive and library staff. We operate an appointment system because our archive and library collections are kept in closed access stores – this means that they are not browsable and visitors to the Reading Room are expected to request material to view in advance using the online catalogues.

If you are not sure what you are looking for, or how to find it, please get in touch and one of our team will be able to advise you.

What you should bring:

  • Pencil and paper, if you wish to take notes
  • Laptops/mobile devices, if needed

Everything else can be left in free lockers which are available for visitor use.

We ask that visitors to the Reading Room respect the collection and take advice from staff on handling and care of objects. There are cloakroom facilities and photography is permitted for non-commercial use. Please let us know if you have any access requirements.

Group visits

If you would like to arrange a group visit to view the collections, please get in touch with us by email with preferred dates and group numbers. To avoid disappointment, we suggest you allow at least two weeks’ notice when booking.

Book a visit

Book a visit

Please get in touch with the team to make an appointment to visit our Research Facilities. To avoid disappointment, we suggest you allow at least two weeks’ notice when booking.

Other resources

Other resources