#Mondayblogs: The oldest library in Scotland

kirk entrance

The Orkney Islands are made up of roughly 70 islands with 980km of coastline to keep you suitably distracted. The archipelagos are home to a ridiculous number of Neolithic sites that span back over 5,000 years and are lit up in the winter months by the Aurora Borealis. But I’m not here for that. I’m here for the oldest public library in Scotland.

Kirkwall is the capital of the mainland and home to the library. You know you’re getting close when you spot the tip of St. Magnus Cathedral and its red sandstone which has been worn away by fierce winds over the centuries. According to David M.N Tinch, the Cathedral possibly held the first collection of books as far back as 1544 for use by the clergy. But as these were all written in Latin they didn’t serve much use to the general public.

William Baikie, a local gent and bibliophile, was persuaded to bequeath his ‘eight score’ volumes to Kirkwall given that he was a confirmed bachelor. He agreed, and by his death in 1683 the first Publick Bibliotheck of Kirkwall was formed. His collection contained mainly theological and polemical works which make for a bit of a dry read but were indicative of reading habits of the time. At first they lived in the home of Reverend James Wallace, but were later transferred to the Cathedral where the collection began to grow. In 1740 the books got their own space thanks to revenues from a recently built Tollbooth. During this period libraries of an ‘improving’ kind had also started to develop, supplying books to the Highlands and surrounding islands.

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St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall

By the 19th century there was a greater demand for a broader range of books and after a public meeting on 17 March, 1815, an appeal led to a donation of 200 books and £70. This resulted in the formation of the Orkney Library, intended for use by the entire country. Baikie’s Biblitheck was incorporated into the library.

Although it originally used the Subscription Model, the library was flexible, allowing strangers to borrow books without charge. Lending times were determined by your postal code, with those living on the periphery of the mainland given three weeks to loan a book. Gradually public libraries started to pop up across the islands in Stromness, Sandwick and Birsay. In Westray, Thomas Belfour started a free library for people unable to buy books and in 1903 Andrew Carnegie, who had made previous donations to the community, offered £1,500 for the erection of a Free Library Building on condition that Kirkwall Council guaranteed an annual sum of £80 to ensure the libraries continual development. Many of the older books, including the original Bibliotheck, were deemed unsuitable for a modern library and sold to raise funds. These were purchased by Archdeacon Craven and now reside in the University Library, Aberdeen in the collection Bibliotheck of Kirkwall. The library at Aberdeen featured in a previous post.

kirk interior big

The library was completed by 1909 and Andrew Carnegie attended the opening, declaring ‘It is the mass of the people who will benefit by it, and who must consider it as their special institution.’ But it wasn’t until 1946 that the library service really started to develop with the appointment of Orkney’s first County Librarian, Mr. Evan MacGillivray. MacGillivray was a real force of nature with a strong vision for library provisions that were delivered with military precision up until his retirement in 1973.

By 1954 he oversaw the amalgamation of the County Library and Kirkwall Free Library. This was followed by the appointment of three full-time assistants who helped him implement his vision of regularly supplying books directly to homes, no matter how isolated or hard to reach, known as the Family Book Service. The Family Book Service was in effect a personal door-to-door service that saw book borrowing in the outer islands grow from 3,846 to 57,752! The service was introduced by MacGillivray himself and resulted in 54 out of 56 households in North Ronaldsay giving it a go. In 1963 a similar scheme of mobile libraries provided service to mainland readers. The incredible impact of this personalised and professional service is worth bearing in mind today as volunteers are gradually replacing professional librarians across the UK as a result of government cuts.

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Me reading in Stromness with Hoy in the background. Bust of George Mackay Brown in Kirkwall Library.

When I started Dawn of the Unread I put forward the question as to whether it was possible for libraries to remain a focal point of the community in the digital age. In the Orkney Islands, perhaps because bandwidth is pretty poor and internet connections are intermittent, the library is at the heart of the community. During my visit I witnessed a celebration of Scottish Pen’s 90th birthday. This included readings in Orcadian dialect from Orkney Stoor, the latest publication from Duncan McLean’s small press. There was also a duet by a local songwriter and poet that was absolutely magical. Upstairs in the Archives is a collection of juvenile manuscripts known as ‘The Minervian Library’ created by 12 year old Maria Cowen and her 10 year old sister, Clara in 1864. This beautiful hand drawn collection is worthy of its own blog which I’ll publish next Monday.

The library itself saw a constant flow of people of all ages and I spent a good couple of days with the poet Aly Stoneman (author of our Ms. Hood issue) reading everything from the diaries of an Orkney farmer from the 1700s, to the poetry of George Brown Mackay, to the brilliant memoir The Outrun by Amy Liptrot. The librarians were fantastic, offering support and guidance to our endless questions, continuing the fine work started by Mr. Evan MacGillivray. But everything you need to know about the ethos and function of this library is in the motto on the County Library bookplate: “Faill not to keep your sone diligent reading and wreating, yt he losse not what he hes attained” William Baikie

Source: The Orkney Library, David M.N. Tinch

Orkney Library and Archive website

FURTHER READING

The best way to support libraries is to use them. Here’s my Orkney-inspired reading list.

  • David M.N. Tinch (1983) The Orkney Library: A Short History 
  • Duncan McLean (1994) Bucket of Tongues
  • Duncan McLean (2015) Orkney Stoor
  • Maggie Fergusson (2012) George Mackay Brown: The Life
  • George Mackay Brown (2014) Beside the Ocean of Time
  • George Mackay Brown (2014) Selected Poems 1954 – 1992
  • Amy Liptrot (2016) The Outrun
  • Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards (1981) Orkneyinga Saga: The History of the Earls of Orkney (Classics)
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#30WildBooks to read in June

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Dawn of the Unread was created in 2014 to raise awareness of Nottingham’s local literary history and to support libraries. We were concerned at some very alarming statistics from the OECD that positioned England as being the 22nd most illiterate country out of 24 industrialised nations. The Literacy Trust supported these findings, declaring 35% of boys found books boring. For this reason we positioned illiteracy as a form of child abuse in our manifesto because there is a strong relationship between literacy and social outcomes. Those who don’t read are less likely to become home owners, vote, or, most worrying of all, have a sense of trust in society. The latest report from the Literacy Trust suggests this trend is getting worse, with a major drop in reading for pleasure after primary school.

We love books and we won’t give up encouraging people of all ages to read which is why we are throwing our full support behind a reading campaign with similarly worthwhile principles. Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust are hoping to increase our understanding of the value of nature and issues facing wildlife by suggesting 30 books to read throughout June.

Speaking about the initiative, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s Audience Development Manager Trish Evans said: “Nottinghamshire is rich in literature heritage and creative literature programmes. We have links to world renowned writers such as Byron and DH Lawrence, celebrated events such as the Lowdham Book festival and vibrant popup poetry events across our county. With Nottingham also being designated as  UNESCO City of Literature we thought the time was write to celebrate nature writing and we believe that 30 Days Wild gives us a unique platform to explore the diversity and power of the genre.”

The list includes two of my all-time favourite books. Moby Dick by Herman Melville was once described by D.H. Lawrence as “the greatest book of the sea ever written”. One strong theme running through the book is perception, none more so in “The Doubloon” chapter where the personality of crew members determines how they perceive the Spanish coin. The wonderfully imaginative The Life of Pi by Yann Martel sees a young Indian boy called Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel stranded on a boat with a Bengal Tiger, Hyena, Zebra and Orangutan. His survival is dependent on his understanding and acceptance of the nature of these animals. Underpinning this adventurous spiritual narrative is an exploration of the relativity of truth as the reader has to decide whether events are true or not.

What both of these books do is challenge our belief systems. They ask us to think about where our ideas come from and the consequences of perceiving life from these perspectives. This is a pertinent moral in terms of conservation as our behaviour is having a profound impact on the environment. At the time of writing it looks as if Donald Trump is ready to withdraw from the Paris Climate agreement, convincing himself that America does not have to reduce its carbon emissions. This would be disastrous for global warming and in turn wildlife (as well as humans!). But if you convince yourself that these things don’t matter, you have the freedom to do as you like. Like the Life of Pi, we chose which narratives we want to believe.

The book I will be reading in June is A Sky Full of Birds by Matt Merritt. I’ve met Matt a few times during my previous tenure as Chair of the Nottingham Writers’ Studio and I follow him on Twitter. This project gives me an excuse to read his latest book. I spend a lot of my life staring into a screen creating digital literature projects so I try to offset this with walks in the wilderness whenever I can. On one such excursion I was circled by two swallows who darted around my head, making me aware of their presence. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I want to learn more about swallows and other birds and the #30wildbooks has given me the perfect opportunity to do this.

If you want to get involved, please select a book from the list here and then share your reviews using the #30Wildbooks hashtag on Twitter.

Nottingham Wildlife Trust website

#MondayBlogs The LeftLion perspective on the selling of the Central Library Site

LeftLion editor Ali Emm attended a meeting in December with other interested stakeholders regarding the selling of the Angel Row library site. Cllr David Trimble and Nigel Hawkins were on hand to answer questions…

 

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Issue 1 of Dawn of the Unread. Published 8 Feb 2014

On Monday 14 November, the Nottingham Post ran a piece detailing Nottingham City Council’s plans to sell the Central Library building on Angel Row to property developers. The people of Nottingham, including us to an extent, threw their collective arms in the air and started running around in a panic over what the implications of such a deal could be. Well, they took to the internet, as is the way in this day and age.

And rightly so, to some degree. After gaining UNESCO City of Literature status earlier this year, and with one of the lowest child literacy rates in the country, the news seemed to be more doom and gloom than bright and hopeful, and raised more questions than it answered.

Immediate action was taken by Nottingham People’s Assembly: they started a petition that was sensationally titled Save Nottingham Central Library – which, to date, has over 1,600 signatures – and organised a ‘Read In’ at Central Library at the beginning of December that was attended by over 200 people.

It warms our hearts to see that the city and its residents care about the library and its provisions, but we thought we should try and get a few firmer answers on the matter to see what exactly the plans are and why the council has made this decision before we got our pitchforks out.

As Cllr Jon Collins, Leader of the City Council, said in a press release, “The council has always been committed to our central library and library facilities across the city, given the range of services they provide for all citizens.

“Central Library isn’t just a place to borrow free books – it provides services for older people to come and meet and learn to use new technology, for mums and tots, schoolchildren, jobseekers, newcomers to the country looking to learn English, housing advice, access to free computers and Wi-Fi, local history investigation and research, and so much more. It would be ludicrous to lose such important services in a city centre and that has never been our intention.”

Ludicrous indeed. Going back as far as 2007, the Labour Manifesto stated that they would “Seek funding to develop a new Central Library in the city centre.” Reiterated in the 2011 Manifesto, the 2015 Manifesto further pledged, “We want to help families get on in life by providing a good range of leisure activities, free and cheap events and excellent public services, as well as creating a development plan for the new Central Library.”

So this news of development isn’t completely out of the blue – the council have been aware that the Central Library hasn’t been fit for purpose for some time, but money has been too tight to do anything about it with Central Government funding cuts to Nottingham.

During a meeting with Cllr David Trimble (the Portfolio Holder for Nottingham Leisure and Culture) and Nigel Hawkins (Head of Culture and Libraries) this week, we put to them the questions that have been buzzing around everyone’s heads. And it seems to us that, although there’s going to be upheaval, the library’s future is something to look forward to.

The building is indeed to be sold to Henry Boot Development Ltd, who have proposed redeveloping the site from a 30,000 sq ft four-storey building into a 100,000 sq ft nine-storey building accommodating Grade A offices. They are also hopeful that the current facade will be retained in the development. The real good news, though, is that approximately 20,000 sq ft of this space is earmarked for the new library and it will be let at no charge to the council. They have made it clear that there is no possibility of a Nottingham City Centre without a library. In addition to the library space, the council will be able to raise income from the rental of the remaining space within the property, although it will not be ring-fenced for library services.

Cllr David Trimble stated that it was a high probability that the library would remain on Angel Row, but they do have an alternative site in mind if this plan doesn’t come to fruition. He was also keen to point out that it was a land deal and not a property deal, and that after thirty years, the property’s lease would revert back to the City Council, meaning they will not be losing out on important city centre space.

Once the deal has been finalised with Henry Boot Development Ltd, there will be a year of due diligence where details such as planning permissions, designs and planning will be arranged. In the meantime, the Contact Centre will more than likely be moved to Loxley House, Station Street, and they are determined to make sure that disruption to services are kept to a minimum.

There will not be a like-for-like service in place, and they don’t want to be unrealistic about promising something they can’t deliver, however they will try and maintain as many of the services to their fullest. Important collections, such as Local Studies, will be kept in the city centre where they are most easily accessed by the public.

The new library will be designed with a view to its long-term function and what the city’s residents need – the councillors discussed how they want to define the place of the library in society and are committed to directly running them.

The entrance to the new library, if it remains within the the Angel Row site, will be prominent and on Angel Row itself. Although they are aware that the footprint of the library will decrease, they don’t believe that the current 30,000 sq ft space is being used to its full potential and therefore it being within a smaller space will not have an impact on the services it can and will provide.

At the time of the meeting, full plans have not been confirmed, so Cllr Trimble and Nigel Hawkins could only answer our questions to the degree of their awareness. They do, however, want to keep the public updated and involved as much as possible as the development moves forward.

 

If you have an opinion on the selling of the library site and would like to write a guest blog, please get in contact. Dawn of the Unread welcomes all perspectives. 

 

 

#MondayBlogs Nottm Council on the future of Central Library

The following Q&A was produced by Nottingham City Council. If you would like to respond with a separate blog, please get in contact.

Nottingham City Council has in principal agreed to explore the opportunity to redevelop the site working with a developer. If we are able to agree a sale, this would include investment to provide an updated central library facility which otherwise we couldn’t do. We understand people’s concerns about the sale and where the library will go – below is some information to provide reassurance that there is a commitment to developing a new Central Library and an outline of the early proposals to make that happen.

Is the council fully committed to keeping Central Library open?
Yes.
This council absolutely recognises the value of libraries, both as community hubs and to help improve literacy and provide internet access for many who don’t have it themselves – that’s why we’re committed to not just keeping the Central Library open, but to investing in it so it remains open, relevant and popular for many years to come. We’re proud of Nottingham’s great literary heritage and our status as a UNESCO City of Literature. Our track record in recent years shows investment in modern neighbourhood libraries including Bulwell, Hyson Green and St Ann’s, often in new joint service centres which encourages more people to use them. This is in contrast to some councils facing budget cuts which have carried out large reductions in library provision to make savings. Bucking that trend, Nottingham City Council’s ruling Labour Group has had a commitment in its last two manifestos to develop the Central Library, and this is now part of the Council Plan.

Is it true Central Library is closing and being turned into offices?
No. That’s only half a story.
We are investing in new Central Library facilities through a deal which will also see new offices developed. The council has approved in principal the disposal of the Angel Row library site to developers Henry Boot Developments Ltd which would provide funding for the council to reinvest in a new and updated library facility. It also paves the way for an increase in Grade A office space to be created, meeting the demand for top quality office space in the city centre and keeping office development in the city centre where it needs to be.

Isn’t this deal more focused on office space?
No. This deal means we can build a new library at virtually no cost to local taxpayers.
This is a good deal for Nottingham and local library users. At a time when we are facing huge Government cuts to our budgets, we have to find imaginative ways to raise capital to fund ambitious plans for Nottingham and without this deal with Henry Boot Development Ltd, we wouldn’t be in a position to develop new Central Library facilities. With it, we have certainty that we can meet our commitment to develop Central Library facilities to meet modern standards and expectations. It also helps to meet the demand for top quality office space in the city – and it delivers a new Central Library at virtually no cost to local taxpayers.

Why does the library need developing?
To create a library fit for the 21st century.
The current library is not fit for purpose. The needs of library users are changing but this site is tired and not very adaptable to those changing needs. Modern central libraries should be a destination which attracts large numbers of people not only to borrow free books, but to access a wide range of services including learning, business intelligence, job clubs, literacy development and access to PCs and wi-fi, research archives, get help using new technology and so much more. Our proposals will give Central Library users the 21st century facility they deserve.

Will Central Library remain in Angel Row?
That’s the plan.
Our focus at the moment is on providing upgraded Central Library facilities on the existing site, but there are other options we are exploring to see if better value and a better outcome can be achieved.

How long will the development take and will services continue while work is underway?
It’s too early to say.
It is too early to say precisely how long the development will take, given that plans have not yet been submitted. While negotiations progress we will be looking at options that enable us to continue providing some Central Library services, but it won’t be a like-for-like service during this interim period. A number of approaches could be followed, all of which will be looked at, and it is important that we consider how we can enable people to use their local neighbourhood libraries to gain better access to the Central Library stock.

Will there be consultation on the proposals?
Absolutely.
Proposals are at a very early stage but we will of course consult with people in due course when our proposals are more refined.

Are there any details yet about the Angel Row development?
Yes.
The scheme will deliver a new Grade A office development of over 100,000sq ft. The proposal seeks to retain the existing façade facing Angel Row. It will also provide free space within the proposed new development, together with a £3m capital contribution, that can be used to provide a new Central Library within the Angel Row development. There will also be new retail units on the ground floor. A planning application has yet to be submitted.

Is there a chance the library element of the scheme is dropped?
No.
There is a clear commitment by the Labour Party and by the Council to provide a Central Library for the City.

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Today a meeting was held with Councillor David Trimble. Dawn of the Unread were invited but we were unable to attend. We will release more information soon.