Leading writers Val McDermid and Ann Cleeves have spoken out against proposed cuts to Orkney's mobile library service.
Orkney Island Council recently announced that the mobile library service is to be cut by £25,000, as the council has to find £1.4m in savings following a drop in funding. The mobile library service currently travels to the islands of Stronsay and Shapinsay, Longhope and Westray as well as other locations across Orkney's mainland and isles. According to the Guardian, the council said this cut could mean "reducing visits to each destination served by the mobile library service to once every two months, rather than once a month as at present."
A petition against the cuts has been launched by author Alison Miller who grew up in Orkney.
Orkney Library & Archive was voted best library at the Bookseller Industry Awards in 2015 and was recently visited by J.K. Rowling. The petition said that despite these successes, "behind the scenes the service is being eroded."
The petition said: “Though social media connects more folk to the library via the Internet, those who take the service to the places far from the main library buildings bring not only books, CDs, DVDs, but the sense that those they serve are part of the wider community; that they matter; that they are not forgotten; that it is possible to live in an outlying place and not be isolated, to have a real connection to the centre.
“It is an essential service. It encourages reading in young and old alike. A reduction will damage communities and leave them impoverished. Please urge Orkney Islands Council to retain Orkney's Mobile Library Service at its present level or better, and protect the jobs of those who deliver it.”
Christie Williams from Glasgow said: “Mobile libraries are a priceless service to residents of outlying areas and remote islands. I should know! They’re meals on wheels for hungry minds. [Don’t starve them].”
Miller told the Guardian that she understood Orkney Islands council had "hard choices" to make with its reduced budget but "library services are too often seen as ‘soft’ services – like the arts – and easy to cut. A glance down the comments from people who have signed the petition will show that they’re much more important than that. People talk about the mobile library being essential to those affected by isolation, physical incapacity, poverty, lack of transport and about the positive impact reading has on mental health and wellbeing, as well as the more expected benefits to education and literacy.”
Cleeves said: “There’s a danger when we talk about cuts to library services that we focus our fight on saving the buildings. For readers in rural communities, the books and the staff are a vital life-line and, often, the only access to the written word. In 2014 I was part of 24/24 - a challenge to run reading events in 24 islands in Orkney and Shetland in 24 hours. It’s sad that less than two years after this celebration of community literary services, Orkney should consider cuts to its award-winning service.”
The council said in a statement: “A great deal of effort has gone into finding ways to lessen the impact of the savings we need to make, but inevitably council services will be affected. The library and archive service is highly valued by the council and the Orkney community. But as part of the budget setting process, one of the difficult decisions taken was to reduce funding for the mobile library service by £25,000. We are currently discussing how this will be achieved.”
The council added that it will remain “fully committed to providing a mobile library service” and that any changes to visiting schedules will be phased in over the late summer.
The petition currently has 592 supporters.
McDermid, who grew up in Fife, has also publicly spoken out against cuts to library services in Fife.