Not just a library, but a place for people...


My talk last week (blogged here) on moving from ‘me towns’ to ‘we towns’ struck a chord with a quite a few people. One point I made was about the value of public services in town centres – especially libraries.
 
Lindsay Lennie, who runs a company specialising in restoring historic shopfronts, was at the Built Environment Forum Scotland conference and sent me her own story of what happens when the library moves out of town. It speaks for itself:

 
'I have worked on numerous town centre projects and am passionate about the importance of high streets, but had probably not really appreciated the significance of the closure of a local library.
 
However, during October I was invigilating the Architecture+Design Scotland ‘High Street’ exhibition which I had helped to bring to Crieff. It was located in a former library on the High Street, closed three years ago when the library was moved to the new ‘Community Campus’ located way out on the edge of town. The old library has sat empty ever since and remains in council ownership.
 
As I sat in the exhibition I talked to hundreds of visitors and realised the huge impact of closing the library. It was a place for people to shelter while waiting for a bus; a place for people to meet; a place for people who live on their own to have human interaction.
 
Local shop owners told me about how they immediately noticed a drop in footfall and takings when it closed. Elderly people told me that instead of using the Crieff school library they are taking the bus to Perth to use the library there, a 40 mile round bus trip.
 
It really is about much more than borrowing books. Locating a library in an inaccessible site on the edge of town within a busy high school is denying many people this use and is having a direct impact on the viability of high street businesses.
 
I was very pleased to see that Malcolm Fraser holds the same view as you regarding the importance of local services and that this will form part of the town centre review for Scottish towns. Hopefully this will lead to an approach that will prevent other towns facing the same loss of their local library and the resultant knock-on detrimental effects.’
 
In a subsequent message Lindsay added:
 
‘In fairness to the new library in the High School Community Campus, it is a very nice library and some people do like it as they visit it when taking their children to sports clubs etc. However, it has alienated certain sections of society and to me they are the most vulnerable, lack a car and are in need of the service in the centre of town - and the town also needs it to help generate regular footfall.’

This is about much more than the importance of libraries. Local services form part of the fabric of society and communities. When we change them, we change the way people have to live their lives. When we close them, we take something away from people’s lives – and as Lindsay points out, it’s often from the lives of the people who have little enough in the first place.