Over the past two years I’ve spent time and energy defending libraries here in
South Gloucestershire and neighbouring local authorities where they are being subjected to ever more
drastic cuts. This is partly because as an ex-librarian (working mainly in the academic
sector) I feel for the staff, but more because our local library played such a formative part in my
childhood. So much so that it won a starring role in my first novel A Kettle of Fish (which I always hasten
to add is nothing to do with my childhood - apart from the locations!)
Of course the library in
wasn’t ‘just any library’ but the very first Carnegie Library and we were
always being reminded of our debt of gratitude to our famous benefactor. (Andrew Carnegie was a native of the town).
|Staircase to the new museum|
Having moved south in my twenties, it's a while since I had darkened the door of my old library, until last month, when I was invited to speak at the Undiscovered Dunfermline conference which was to be exactly there. I was already aware the original building of 1883 had been redeveloped and recently reopened as the Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries and so I was both excited and apprehensive to see what had happened to my old stamping ground.
Well I have to say I was totally wowed, and I don’t think it was just the librarian in me. DCLG won ‘Best building in
2016 and although I haven’t seen the others I’m not surprised. I took some
photos myself, but for the overall feel take a look here.
The library now incorporates a museum and art gallery and has a stunning research reading room where its special collections can be accessed. The original lending library is still there for me to have a whiff of nostalgia and I can also say the café (great coffee, home-made cakes!) with its new view of the very ancient Dunfermline Abbey came in pretty handy in the course of our weekend stay.
|The new reading room|
It’s hard to imagine anything like this £12 million investment happening down here and I wondered if
Scotland is just better funded for
libraries and culture? Or is it the answer more obvious? Some quick and dirty
research revealed funding was shared by the Local Authority, the Heritage Lottery
fund and – yes, the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust, custodian of the fortune left
behind by ‘Uncle Andrew’.
Of course capital investment is one thing, running costs another, and I see the opening hours of the new place are adequate rather than generous, so even this architectural gem is subject to normal restrictions.
|New view of the Abbey and the library garden|
Of course Carnegie gets mixed reviews beyond my home town. I was shocked as a teenager to hear of his other reputation as an anti-unionist who built his fortune at the expense of labourers. This reminds me that here in
Bristol many of
the city’s benefactors are having their names removed from public places
because of their involvement in slavery. Putting the rights or wrongs of this
to one side, I don’t think it would be possible to remove Carnegie from
Dunfermline without dismantling vast swathes of the town, not to mention its collective consciousness : the traditional endearment to children was ‘all Carnegie’s gold couldna buy ye’.
Or has that changed now? At least we can see that Carnegie’s gold is still buying quite a lot.
|Ali with her display at Undiscovered Dunfermline|