… to bear witness to what is happening in the times in which they live?
Just as Charles Dickens writing about the plight of young children in London prompted the work of the great Victorian philanthropic organisations, and Charles Kingsley’s Water Babies led to the Act going through the UK Parliament banning the use of chimney boys, I am very much hoping that this Blog contributes to the pressure upon my local Council to halt the scything cuts to East Dunbartonshire Library Services.
I’d intended to blog about the history of traditional tales as per my research for my book due out just now, An Illustrated Treasury of Folk and Fairy Tales. But I’ve put that aside to talk about a different kind of history - the history of my own Public Library. My older sister took me along to join The William Patrick Memorial Library as a very young child. From a great height the Dragon Lady inspected me, announced that as I was “from a good family” I was a suitable candidate. When she discovered I was underage (not quite 5) she gave me a reading test. Yes, really! Trembling, and with quavering voice I managed to gulp out a sentence. She nodded. I was in! I entered the magic world of Blyton, Brazil, and Buckeridge, and many, many more. I became a reader, and then due, I’m sure due to the library, a writer.
Last year, despite my organising a protest outside the Scottish Parliament and fighting a hard campaign, my local mobile service was taken off the road, leaving large housing estates and outlying villages without a library service. I considered this an immoral act made for political expediency so that no councillor representing a specific area would get hassle. When the mobile disappeared I was filled with great despair. At one time I was responsible for Mobile Services. I knew these hamlets, farmsteads, villages, smallholdings and housing estates. I knew the old people, those looking after young children, the teachers, the school pupils. Isolated and vulnerable they had lost a life-link. Teachers, parents and, most importantly, children loved our schools stops which were the foundation of establishing reading as a pleasurable habit rather than merely a tedious decoding chore. The nearest static branch for many of the people became the William Patrick Library in Kirkintilloch.
In the Spring of this year, in the guise of “modernisation” East Dunbartonshire Council admitted that they had made arrangements to alter the Lending Department which occupied the ground floor of the building. When accused of decimating the library our Chief Executive defended himself by saying that he was only reducing it by 10%. (sic) This is a man in desperate need of a dictionary. When we were finally allowed to see the plans the 10% turned out to be a whole lot more.
The Children’s Department which was on the left hand side of the ground floor has been shut and some shelves allocated in the Adult Lending, losing about 70 in total. No one quite knows what the new “Customer Services” marked to go in its place is for. Neither would it appear does the Council as they are now, belatedly, holding “Consultation” exercises about this. Or maybe they do know but are just not telling us.
In Kirkintilloch there is outrage about this. William Patrick was our own personal Andrew Carnegie. The library was left as a bequest by his brother in his name. It is well-loved, well-used, and a source of pride.
Under the law of the land the provision of a public library service is a statutory requirement that Councillors of local authorities must fulfil. Even if they establish a Trust to manage and organise the functions, the responsibility for providing library service is theirs.
I think it has become the responsibility of this writer to remind them of this.
Theresa Breslin will be appearing at the KELMARSH FESTIVAL in July and the EDINBURGH BOOK FESTIVAL in August this year to speak about her latest novel Spy for the Queen of Scots and the Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales. (Illustrator Kate Leiper)