A Split Personality? The double life of the King James Library

A guest post in advance of the Gateway Gallery exhibition: A Royal Foundation: 400 Years of King James Library. Colin Bovaird has studied and worked in the Library and here brings some recent memories of the experiences. This post is cross-posted on the Museum Collections Blog.

Some of the less expected things that go on in the Library

Rather like Dr Jekyll, the King James Library leads something of a double life: quiet place of scholarly endeavour by day, thumping music venue and celebrity hang-out by night.

Or sort of at least.

Being one of the most visually striking locations in the University, the library is much sought after as a venue for cultural events, from the sober – lectures, poetry reading, exhibitions (including the work by Kenneth Dingwall currently on display) – to the decidedly raucous.

Over the last few years the library has played host to a number of music events as part of the student-run “On the Rocks” and “Eye o’ the Dug” festivals. Performers have ranged from established local artists such as King Creosote to the decidedly less conventional Balkan burlesque sounds of The Lost Todorovs (see below).

From the Lost Todorovs concert in the King James Library.

Musicians are not the only surprising visitors to the library. A number of glamorous Swedish models turned up rather unexpectedly, having been booked to appear in a photo shoot for the Henri Lloyd fashion house. The person taking the booking had n’t thought to check whether the library would be open as normal – it was and the models were obliged to pose by the library’s stately pillars and drape themselves over bookcases while some very bemused students looked on.The room’s very photogenic nature doesn’t just appeal to photographers however. The library is very often the first port of call for film crews visiting St Andrews who are looking for an atmospheric location for a piece to camera or interview.

Well-known names filming in the library in recent years have included Stephen Fry (an interview for a series on manic depression), historian David Starkey (a documentary on royal romances), and First Minister Alex Salmond (a segment for the movie Ever to Excel).

There’ll be more about famous visitors to the library in future posts, but you will have the chance to come along and see the room for yourself on Sunday 2nd September when the Library is open (12:00 to 5:00) along with Parliament Hall and the Senate Room as part of Doors Open Day.

Colin Bovaird

Academic Liaison Officer and King James Library observer

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