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Orkney Library: And So Much More

Publication: The Orkney News

Across Scotland many libraries have been under threat of closure – and some have been closed.

Local Authorities seeking budget cuts have looked to what they see as a softer option when looking for savings in their communities. Hard choices are made and unfortunately many fail to understand that libraries provide essential services.

A quick look inside Orkney’s Kirkwall Library on a very wet Saturday morning illustrates the vital role libraries play within the communities they serve.

A free library card is a gateway to an array of reading material (or audio). In these days where people rely heavily on the algorithms of an online search engine – library shelves laden with books provide the reader with free access to stories and information where you, the reader, makes the choice of what to select.

We’ve become reliant on search engines making that choice for us, and yes that is useful, but actual books, we can hold in the hand, returns control to the reader who can select several books to take home, or can just sit right down and read them in the warmth of a comfortable armchair in the library itself.

Bookbug caters for younger library users. The Aims of Bookbug are:

  • To provide free resources to help parents to share books with babies
  • To ensure that all children have free and regular access to a wide range of books which are suitable for their age
  • To promote a love of books and reading from an early age which will last throughout life

Secondly – Libraries are about even more than books.

Libraries provide a host of services and activities. One of the newest at the Kirkwall Library is ‘Lend and Mend’ where sewing machines and materials encourage people to sew, repairing items they might otherwise throw out.

Nine Scottish Public Library Services provide free access to equipment to repair, reuse, and upcycle everyday items through Lend & Mend Hubs.

The innovative project is managed by the Scottish Library and Information Council and funded by the John Lewis Circular Future Fund.

This project is only in its first phase and is focussing on  mending, reusing and upcycling clothing and other fabric items. There are short introductory classes for people who require to familiarise with the equipment.

There is also a Yap and Yarn Knitting Club for people who like or want to learn knitting.

On Saturday the computers were busy – a really important resource for the many islanders who do not have home internet access or a computer. This section is popular during the tourist season when many visitors make use of it and the library’s free WiFi. The library also has printing facilities – another essential service.

Parents and children can have a lot of fun taking part in the various Lego challenges with finished models on display.

Libraries as a place of comfort and warmth

When so many are struggling to keep their homes warm, the library provides a warm refuge with comfortable seating. In the foyer there are hot drinks available.

And you are surrounded not just by books but by superb works of art.

Public Libraries were closed during the Covid Lockdown – unfortunately at a time when they were most needed to reduce isolation. However, although you could not visit the library as you once did, in Orkney services were still provided: ordering books and picking them up, and BorrowBox, an App which provides readers with access to books (and now magazines).

Orkney’s delivery service to library users has always provided islanders who may not be able to physically visit the library with books. The Mobile Library Van, Booky McBook Face travels around Orkney, Mainland and the Isles.

The Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) has produced a map of all the Public Libraries in Scotland. Funded by the Scottish Government the SLIC also provides funding to libraries for specific projects. Scotland has fewer public libraries than it once did which makes those we have left even more important for the free services they provide.

‘Libraries serve the whole community: young and old. Books seed so much: discussion; information; fun; relaxation. They can bring people together or provide space for those who need time apart.’ – Caroline Wickham-Jones, author and archaeologist

Public Libraries in Scotland, 2023