How to save a Library – article by Barbara Millar

An excellent article, written by Barbara Millar and published in Scottish Review (original article here:

Colins2By the end of April, the former Fife Council-run library in the East Neuk village of Colinsburgh will be under new management – the local community. It will also have a new name – the Colinsburgh Galloway Library, in recognition of the generous bequest of Victorian linen magnate Thomas Galloway, which enabled the library on the village’s main street to be built in 1903.

Colinsburgh was one of eight libraries across the county to be closed earlier this year. The closure of a further eight is still likely. In 2013, Fife Council off-loaded all of its library services to an arms-length organisation, the Fife Cultural Trust, and then promptly slashed its budget. At the time, the trust’s head of external relations, Laurie Piper, claimed: ‘It was not why the trust was set up, but the fact is that we have to make savings, and the majority of our business being library services, it was inevitable that libraries would bear the brunt.’

In the run-up to announcing the closures in December 2015, the council’s PR machine spewed the usual guff. The official reason given for the library’s closure was ‘to make sure the service was as sustainable and suited to customer need as possible’. The pressing need to save £800k, however, presumably focused councillors’ minds rather more than what ‘customer need’ might actually be. Certainly, one would expect, that need is rather more than what has been offered – a fortnightly mobile library service parked in the village for a whole hour.

Thomas Carstairs Galloway, born in the neighbouring village of Kilconquhar in 1846, made a fortune in the linen industry. When he died he left a large trust fund to be invested, he ordered, in railways and coal, in order to fund the building of a library in Colinsburgh, together with accommodation above for a librarian/caretaker. Forfar-born architect Charles Davidson designed the imposing Scots baronial and renaissance-influenced building, which
is now grade II listed, including its original Shanks and Co’s timber-seated loo, its arts and crafts brass door furniture and its little-altered reading room.

In 1992, the council decided to flout the conditions of Thomas Galloway’s bequest and to sell the flat above the library to a private purchaser. This may have been the fate of the library itself, had not the community of Colinsburgh decided to step in. Within weeks of the library closing its doors to the public at 7pm on 28 February 2017, the newly-formed Colinsburgh Galloway Trust Ltd was registered at Companies House and had approached OSCR, the Scottish charity regulator, for charity status. The new trust is now in the latter stages of negotiating a five-year lease with the council, which will mean the local authority will retain the obligation to maintain the exterior of the building and to keep it wind- and water-tight, while the trust will take over responsibility for the interior fabric and for running a variety of community facilities, with the library at its core.

Local resident and crime writer Mac Logan is chair of the trust and campaigned hard for the retention of the library in the village. ‘Instead of sending out leaflets, I decided to go out, knock on doors and talk to people about what was happening,’ Mr Logan explains. ‘I was told to my face many times that there wasn’t a chance of getting this off the ground, but there are now around 30 volunteers, some on the trust board, and others heading up committees looking after finance, fundraising, the building and other proposed projects.’

A team of 20 volunteers is already rostered to staff the library as soon as it opens. The council has donated the books that were in the library’s stock when it closed, together with those books out on loan to the trust, and already the Fife Council borrowing sticker on each book’s inside cover has been replaced by a Colinsburgh Galloway Library sticker.

There is still some money available from Thomas Galloway’s original bequest but grant applications are also being made, and fundraising efforts will start in earnest. The trust plans to refurbish the library and reading room, retaining its original wood-panelling, tiled fireplaces and brass coat hooks, while adding central heating and a new kitchen. The costs of the upgrade are likely to be around £20k, Mr Logan estimates, while the running costs should be in the region of £5-6k per annum.

There are lots of plans. The trust has been promised ‘umpteen’ computers, printers and other technology by one of its benefactors and Mr Logan hopes that, by forging a close connection with Colinsburgh Primary School, just a few doors down the street, this will attract the village’s young people.

‘We are keen to look at the needs and aspirations of our young people,’ he says, ‘and how we might provide them with the things they require to stretch them and inspire them. There are lots of skilled people in the village and I am interested in what people care to share. I have a vision of the library becoming a micro-campus where we can offer some form of enlightened apprenticeships.’

Future ventures also include cooking skills classes, a ‘secret cinema’ in conjunction with the flourishing Colinsburgh community cinema, which has been running since 2008 in the Town Hall, another community-owned building, poetry workshops and a wealth of other schemes. ‘We have to serve the whole community,’ says Mr Logan, ‘and we will start by laying down a solid foundation for what we are going to deliver.’

Colinsburgh is not a typical East Neuk village. There are no pantiled roofs, no crow-stepped gables or other picturesque architectural features which jostle for photographs as they do in the neighbouring settlements of Elie, St Monans, Pittenweem and Crail. There is no quaint harbour overlooking the spot where the Firth of Forth meets the North Sea. By no stretch of the imagination could Colinsburgh be considered a beauty spot. Despite attempts to limit traffic speed, the users of the A917 continue to travel at a lick down its one main street. But its 600 or so residents have a palpable community spirit, and I predict the Colinsburgh Galloway Library will be its next success story.

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