Edinburgh Central Library must start a new chapter – Clllr Donald Wilson

We need to transform the Central Librar to meet 21st century needs, writes Cllr Donald Wilson. Doing nothing is expensive and doesn’t deliver bests value.

Wednesday, 20th November 2019, 6:00 am
The city council wants to transform Edinburgh's Central Library to meet 21st century needs. Picture: Ian Georgeson

They say things come in threes and that’s definitely the case in Edinburgh with all things literature at the moment! Today we are celebrating the first National Mobile Libraries Day and Edinburgh is one of best local authorities in the country for providing this valuable service.

Edinburgh has five vehicles, which is more than any other city in Scotland (Glasgow doesn’t have any), making more than 5800 stops every year and lending out nearly 100,000 items from books to DVDs and also providing services such as storytelling sessions and craft activities. Mobile libraries are a real lifeline for ­communities and using them gives people a sense of belonging and helps to reduce loneliness and isolation.

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Cllr Donald Wilson is convener of the culture & communities committee at Edinburgh City Council. Picture: Ian Georgeson

They are so much more than books, which leads nicely on to this week being Scottish Book Week. Edinburgh was the first City of Literature in the world so it’s only right we celebrate Scottish Book Week with lots of fun and educational events in our libraries, schools and across the city. So why not pop down to your local library to see what they’ve got planned?

One exciting new development is the news of our ambitious plans to transform the Central Library.

Last week the culture and communities committee approved proposals to create a project team to develop an imaginative, accessible and engaging future vision for one of the Capital’s most iconic buildings.

We fully realise this is a major undertaking but it’s one we are embracing with open arms as we aim to create an inspiring and inclusive learning and cultural destination.

There will undoubtedly be many challenges on the long journey but we need to transform the Central Library to meet 21st century needs and the evolving expectations of both present and future generations.

One of the major issues facing us is poor accessibility as many areas are off limits to wheelchair users and extremely challenging for others.

Public space is limited with only about 35 per cent currently available. Our two public proposals would increase this to 75 per cent and 95 per cent. Funding will be another challenge but one where there are potential options we can explore. Doing nothing is expensive and doesn’t deliver best value – we need to be preventative rather than reactive.

We have already shown what can be achieved with the refurbishment of the Children’s Library, Music Library, Edinburgh and Scottish Collection in 2014. These spaces are now modern, bright and welcoming which has led to an increase in visitors.

Transforming the Central Library is key to widening access and inclusion, to offering an outstretched, welcoming hand for all, and sparking discovery, creativity and imagination through the power of reading and learning, in all its forms.

As Andrew Carnegie said in a telegram to the Lord Provost of Edinburgh on 27 April 1886: “There is one point upon which all true Scotchmen are agreed, that no city in the world compares to Edinburgh.” Edinburgh deserves a ­Central Library of the highest quality that matches or exceeds those anywhere else in the world – let’s all work together to deliver one!

Cllr Donald Wilson is convener of the culture & communities committee at Edinburgh City Council.