The Rankin Files

It all began a few years ago, when representatives of the Library sat down with renowned crime writer Ian Rankin to discuss the acquisition of his extensive literary archive. Fast-forward to September 2019, when I took up the post of Ian Rankin Project Curator, tasked with the arrangement, cataloguing, and promotion of this incredible collection of materials.

I am now working towards making this archive of unique materials available for public consultation. My goal is to record and preserve these materials that are important to Scottish culture and literary history, and in doing so continue the tradition of the Library as a place for modern literary archives to call their forever home.

The Project So Far

The archive arrived in 23 large document boxes. Our first step was to transfer the materials to archival boxes for both access and conservation purposes. For this process, the materials were kept in their original folder when there was one, and loose materials were put into new folders in their original order.

Two images, one of te original document boxes that the archive arrived in, the second of the smaller archival boxes that we transferred the material into.
The original boxes containing the materials, and the FB5 archival boxes into which they moved.

It was then time to dig in! We created a digital database in which I would list all of the materials in the archive, including metadata such as title, dates, and a sort code. This sort code was added to each item in the database using a determines set of categories, such as works, correspondence, etc. I determined the sort codes by the nature of the materials, while also keeping in mind how the material would eventually be arranged. These codes virtually grouped similar items together so that I could begin to look at the overall arrangement and hierarchy of the materials.

Each item or group of similar items, such as this manuscript of ‘The Hanging Garden’, has been placed in an archival folder and recorded in the database.

During this process, I looked at every single item in the archive: each manuscript, newspaper clipping, handwritten note, and letter passed through my hands and found itself in the database. The materials in the archive paint a full picture of not only what Mr Rankin has written, but who he is as a writer and a man. I have discovered many gems among the materials that provide particularly insightful looks into his writing process. Each of these items has been described and listed, and will soon be catalogued, so that future researchers are able to find these gems and make further discoveries themselves!

Handwritten notes of Ian Rankin, in black and blue ink, outlining plot points and possible scene locations.
Handwritten notes from the archive show Rankin’s process for planning his novel ‘Set In Darkness’ in 1998. (Acc.14000 Box 2(6)02)

With the listing complete, the archive now takes up 77 FB5 boxes, plus two smaller archival boxes containing digital media (mostly floppy disks, which we will investigate later). I have revisited the sort codes to create a final logical arrangement of the materials virtually. I have just completed this crucial step; this virtual arrangement will translate to the physical arrangement of the materials. The goal of the arrangement is to make every item findable when it is catalogued, as well as to make logical sense when browsing the archive.

I have met with Mr. Rankin on several occasions to discuss the project and obtain valuable context and insight into the materials, from specific dates to entire background stories. We will conduct further interviews about the materials in the future and record them to video and audio – these recordings will then be available through the Library so that future readers are able to obtain valuable contextual information straight from Ian himself!

Next Steps

My next step will be to physically arrange the materials based on the virtual sort. With 77 boxes and over 3000 individual items, this sounds like a daunting task. However, with the virtual sort already completed, I simply need to follow this determined order. Though not daunting in principle, it will still require a formidable amount of desk space!

Once I have arranged the materials, I will catalogue each item in ArchivesSpace and create a finding aid so that whoever wishes to view the items can find them in our online catalogue and request them to view in the Library’s Special Collections Reading Room.


Working notes of Rankin as he began his novel ‘Let It Bleed’ in 1994. (Acc.14000 Box 6(3)02)

We have also been working to promote the archive, and will continue to do so. The Library hosted a launch event to celebrate the re-issue of Rankin’s ‘lost’ thriller, Westwind. 100 members of the public attended this event, and were able to view a display of selected items from the archive while getting their books signed by Rankin.

We have been further publicising the project and the collection by posting ‘sneak peeks’ of what’s in the archive on Twitter. We are also in the process of creating a short film that documents my role and the project as a whole.

Stay up to date with the project and future promotional events by following @nlsarchives on Twitter!

Read Ian Rankin’s article about donating his archive, written for the Library’s Discover magazine: .