This article first appeared in the March issue of iScot Magazine.
By Fiona Grahame
Orkney has the oldest public lending library in Scotland having been established in 1683 when William Baikie bequeathed his personal collection of over 150 books to the “Publeck Liberarie of Kirkwall”.
The world’s first Carnegie Library, opening in 1883, was Dunfermline and throughout the UK and Ireland 660 libraries were funded by Andrew Carnegie or by the Carnegie UK Trust.
“There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration” Carnegie
My first visit to a library was as a child with my dad who enrolled me with the new Blackhall Library in Edinburgh. Only just opened it had more shelves empty than full but I was enthralled when I discovered there was such a thing as a children’s section and I could take out up to 3 books at a time.
That was the start of my love of libraries and being able to access literature for free.
Scotland has over 500 public libraries and up to 80 mobile ones taking books out to more remote areas. The Orkney Library also has a delivery option which is a fantastic service to those who are housebound.
In 1973 the Orkney Archive was established and now sits comfortably in Kirkwall as part of the new Library Building. It’s a resource well used by locals and visitors. Not to be outdone Orkney’s second town, Stromness has a newly constructed library building. As part of ‘The Warehouse’ it takes its heat from the sea . The first building in the islands to be fitted with a sea-source heat pump it has spectacular views from the upstairs rooms over the sheltered bay of Hamnavoe.
When I first stepped through the doors of the Blackhall Library as a child it was a place of stifling silence. Even a squeaky shoe would cause visitors to turn and glare. Today libraries are changed places with Book Bug Sessions for parents and the very young, Knit and Knatter groups, free access to the internet, printing facilities including 3D printers and coffee machines.
As someone who is quite partial to silence when reading I realise that I have to accept that at some times the library will not be without singing and chatter. It’s all about access and encouraging people through those library doors who might not otherwise go near it.
In many local authorities public libraries are under threat of closure or have limited their opening times. Libraries are an easy option to cut back on as their benefits cannot be quantified in statistics. Free access to information whether in book form or via the internet is crucial to our growth personally and as part of a forward thinking society.
Reading is the greatest liberation of the mind that can happen to any individual, regardless of age. The joy of escaping into another world, discovering new ideas,people, places, the wonders of the illustrators art – all of these are revealed with the opening of a book.
The Orkney News was established on the 1st February 2017 as a free to view online newspaper. It will always remain so with articles that encourage discussion including links to outside documents and sources. In 2014 the Scots became the most politically self educated in Europe. No longer trusting what they were being told by news sources, they sought the facts out for themselves. It was a pivotal moment in our developing self confidence individually and collectively. Free access to information removed the financial barriers which would have prevented many from finding out for themselves and making their own choices.
Closing the local library, getting rid of the mobile vans these are attacks on our access to a wider world of information and knowledge. It may not be possible to quantify it in a set of statistics but its impact will be damaging and long lasting.
“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” Kofi Annan