In honor of National Library Day in the UK (8 February), Yvonne Melville of the Fife Cultural Trust asked a local librarian a few questions about the importance of—and memorable experiences with—local libraries in Fife, Scotland.
What do libraries mean to you and the community?
I’ve worked for Fife’s libraries in the varies guises that it’s taken for the last 25 years. Libraries and reading have always played a huge part of my life from a small child waiting in the local library for my Mum to finish work for the day, meeting my husband over the issue desk when I worked at Cupar Library and now feeding our two children’s reading habit. I now appreciate how my own Mum felt when she couldn’t get my attention as I was lost in a book, as I try and catch my son’s attention. How can I get too upset when they are so engrossed in a book that they don’t hear me?
The first library I took charge of was Cupar Library in Fife. I loved working in Cupar Library, getting to know the regular customers, and the element of not knowing what you were going to be asked next. At that stage the huge social element of libraries was making sure the older gentleman didn’t come to blows over who was reading the newspaper, and keeping up with the latest crisis in someone else’s life. Today we seem to have an even wider role to play, helping to improve literacy, providing free access to computers and the internet, along with support on how to use them, and perhaps one of the most important parts of our work – providing a safe haven for anyone to come and spend a little time without being judged. Staff in our libraries are seen as friends who watch babies being born, children growing up and the rest of life’s stories unfold in front of them – even though I haven’t worked in Cupar Library for over 14 years I am stilll greeted by my regular customers when I meet them in the street, that’s something that I still value.
How are Fife libraries adapting to the ever-changing needs and demands of users?
Over the years we have seen any changes take place in our libraries – and to some extent that is as it should be as all services should continue to change to meet their customers needs and wants. We’ve seen public computers being installed and this brought with it new challenges and skills for our staff. Delighted to say that most of them rose to the challenge and public computers are seen as part of the core service.
We’re currently looking to see how best we can meet the needs of those customers who are being affected by the changes to welfare reform and the fate that a lot of these customers have either no or very very limited IT knowledge but need help to complete forms urgently. Information needs are going towards digital resources and this is something we are constantly reviewing to ensure we don’t waste finances on resources which will not be used. We are also trying to step in to the e-book market and hope to be able to provide that this year.
What is the future for libraries in Fife?
Fife’s libraries are fortunate and have seen a lot of investment over the last few years. In 2013 we reopened what was Kirkcaldy Central Library after major building work to merge it with the museum and art gallery next door giving us Kirkcaldy Galleries. We now have a fantastic facility which is being well used. Dunfermline Carnegie Library, the original Carnegie Library, is about to close for 2 years to allow major buildings to take place which will provide a museum wing to the building courtesy of Heritage Lottery funding. It’s not just the larger libraries which are being refurbished – Auchtermuchty library is currently closed while refurbishment takes place and a number of smaller libraries have been refurbished over the last few years. Long may this type of investment take place.
We are also now part of Fife Cultural Trust which should give us more opportunities to work with our colleagues in museums and theatres. We still have a very vibrant young people’s service who will hold a Fife-wide reading quiz with the primary schools, nothing beats the excitement of the final of the Big Book Brain Quiz. On the adult side of our work we are starting to make plans for Book Week Scotland at the end of November -seems like we are wishing our lives away!