Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Edzell Library

Edzell Library, Inglis Memorial Hall, Edzell, Angus, Scotland

This is just one drop of water in a sea of ineptitude, but it merits mentioning. Stories like these illustrate the human impact that community library closures have.

The lovely Scottish town of Edzell, famous for its Edzell Castle (visited by Mary, Queen of Scots, while on her northern expedition to quell the Huntly Rebellion - shhh, those were probably my Huntly relatives!) and its walled gardens, is losing its library. In fact, all four rural libraries in the Angus Council area closed at the end of March 2010 and will be and will be replaced by a mobile library service, for a saving of £30,000. There was no prior public consultation. Meanwhile, as Edzell Library Action Group underlined, it is deeply troubling that no consultations were made over this decision, and that larger decisions which involved more money being spent have gone through Council.

Take a walk inside your head for a minute (I'd fly you all over, but, you know, the cost....): The Edzell library was donated to the community for use as a library by Lieut. Col. Robert William Inglis in 1898 (Inglis' books are still there). The Edzell Library Action Group believes it to be one of the best preserved examples of a late 19th century public library surviving in the UK.

It features stained-glass windows, original fixtures, and - brace yourself - it is one of the few remaining libraries with the Cotgreave indicator. Be still my heart.

As the Edzell Library Action Group (henceforth christened by me ELAG) pointed out, while the Council has claimed the mobile library will provide Edzell with better service, it will only be parked outside the former library building for 2 hours a week; the former library building was open nine hours a week. Oh , and the mobile library will not have Internet service - looks like the digital divide is still alive and well, and not merely in the Third World!

Never fear, my pretties. The Council has promised to not only maintain but improve the Edzell Library building, making it a destination for local history material and resources. They say they hope to promote the historical library and building, without (of course) being specific about anything. Hmph. As ELAG points out, could they not have done this while maintaining the library? God knows, they will need some staff for the heritage centre, beyond the volunteers they hope to rely on. Who better to help promote local history than librarians or library assistants, guardians of the recorded word (and sometimes realia, too!)? Hey, wait, this reminds me: I strongly urge Council to read Public Libraries, Archives and Museums: Trends in Collaboration and Cooperation. How horribly vain is it to quote myself? Oh well, don't hate me (sources referred to are at the end of this post):

'While there are certainly both benefits and risks to collaborative projects between libraries, museums and archives, “all the evidence indicates that pooled resources and shared expertise will help … promote social inclusion, meet special needs and touch the lives of hard-to-reach groups” (Spelman and Kelly 24). Writes David Carr, “when we capture and express such possibilities, we come to own a view of the future” (38). Libraries, archives and museums must respond to [the challenges of the digital age] by similarly defying physical boundaries: finding new ways to deliver information to the public, collaborating to preserve and digitise heritage information, and pursuing new joint-use facilities.'

Now then, ahem. A few numbers, just to keep it all scientific-like. 2001 Census results show that Edzell is:
  • a growing community [current population approx. 1000].
  • home to the highest percentage of people over 75 in Angus
  • home to the highest percentage of people with a limiting long term illness or poor health in Angus (I find they always have the most fun getting in and out of mobile libraries, don't you agree?)
Library statistics show that:
  • When calculated at 'per head of population per hours open,' (figures calculated in different ways show different things) Edzell's borrowing rate and visitor rate is close to 3 times that of libraries with regular, full time opening hours.
  • Use of "part-time" libraries is growing in Angus, while use of "full-time" libraries is dropping off.
Councils have a duty to provide adequate library service to communities; the question is, is 2 hours a week in and out of a bookmobile adequate for a growing population in a rural area, full of seniors and generally enthusiastic borrowers?

For the moment, the Scottish Library and Information Council/CILIP in Scotland seems to be on the ball, advocating for the importance of library services in Edzell and Angus Council. The battle, however, is far from over, and it's only one battle in the war.

For more information about Edzell Library, follow these links:

Sources quoted in the excerpt from my professional paper above:
  1. Carr, David. “In the Contexts of the Possible: Libraries and Museums as Incendiary Cultural Institutions.” RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts and Cultural Heritage 1.2 (2000): 117-35.
  2. Spelman, Anne, and Paula Kelly. “In Visible Light: Illuminating Partnerships Across Libraries to Facilitate Lifelong Learning for Young People.” Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services (Aplis) 17.4

No comments:

Post a Comment