Principal keeper of the National Library of Scotland;
Born: April 2,1918; Died: August 18, 2012.
James "Hamish" Robert Seaton, who has died aged 94, spent his professional career in the National Library of Scotland, where he was a constant and welcoming presence to readers and visitors alike.
Born in Blair Atholl, he was the youngest of the five children of John Seaton of Kinloch Rannoch and Jane Stewart of Logierait. His father's people were Gaelic-speaking, the name Hamish deriving from family use of the Gaelic vocative of James (Sheumais).
He attended primary school in the old schoolhouse at Blair Atholl, going on to Pitlochry High School, where he was dux in 1935. In that year he entered the University of Glasgow to read classics, graduating MA with first class honours in 1939.
He was then recruited for military service in the Royal Artillery, a regiment of the 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division. While billeted in Gerardsbergen in Belgium with the Broekaert family, who remained lifelong friends, he learned the language, earning the accolade from Franz Broekaert that "Hamish speaks Flemish without blemish". He completed his army career as a captain in the Control Commission in Germany.
On his return in 1946 he entered the University of Edinburgh to study law, but the following year joined the National Library of Scotland, surrendering law in favour of a lifelong passion for libraries. He began his career as assistant keeper in the department of printed books, and for six years from 1960 was secretary of the library.
He became deputy keeper in 1964 and keeper in 1966, with responsibility for the catalogue and the introduction of automation. In 1974 he was appointed principal keeper of printed books, a post he held until his retirement in 1983. His time in the library spanned that of three eminent librarians: Marryat Ross Dobie (1947-1953), William Beattie (1953-1970) and Denis Roberts (1970-1983).
In 1966 he married Anne Vernon from the Isle of Man, a fellow classicist, who also worked in the National Library. Their two sons, John and Robert, were born in 1967 and 1969.
In an age when the book was pre-eminent, he had a natural affinity for the library's collections. During his keepership the national collection was strengthened by the acquisition of important special collections and the systematic enrichment of the European and international holdings through the work of specialist curatorial staff. He took a keen personal interest, too: he could often be seen on the stack floors, occasionally at unsociable hours, pursuing a line of inquiry or a serendipitous point. Firmly convinced that libraries should make their collections more accessible to readers, he did much to set the foundations for computerised cataloguing.
Many of the leading initiatives of the time, such as the Bibliography of Scotland, bore his imprimatur; and he was influential in the steps taken in the 1970s to encourage co-operation among research libraries in Scotland.
Long before management techniques swept through research libraries, he had his own very individual style. A visit to his office could lead to a lengthy tour de force through his wide range of scholarly interests. His memos, the communication medium of the day, would fill the entire space on the memo sheet and continue around all the edges. Gregarious and sociable, he attracted visitors to the library and forged numerous contacts furth of Scotland: he was a strong advocate of links with research libraries in continental Europe and the wider world.
He formed a particular affection for books on the Indian mutiny of 1857, amassing a substantial personal collection. On one occasion he invited the entire Edinburgh Bibliographical Society to his house to view the collection. A chance inquiry sparked off a lively interest in genealogy, and led to a long association with the Scottish Genealogy Society, of which he was a council member.
In the 1970s two society members, John and Sheila Mitchell, initiated the Monumental Inscriptions project, recruiting volunteers to record all pre-1855 inscriptions in Scottish graveyards. He entered enthusiastically into this work, contributing his time to recording inscriptions in the graveyards of Blair Atholl and its surroundings for the North Perthshire survey.
He was a member of Edinburgh Bibliographical Society from 1948, acting as secretary from 1953 to 1977, and as president from 1980 to 1983. He was appointed OBE in 1979.
In retirement he divided his time between Blair Atholl and Edinburgh, combining his love of Atholl with the enticements of bookshops and bookish pursuits in the city.
Heart trouble required bypass surgery in 2002, from which he made a good recovery. When increasing age took its toll, he spent the last seven months in the care of the Erskine Edinburgh Home, where he died. He is survived by his sister Georgie, in Glasgow, and by his wife Anne and his sons John and Robert.
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