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A short-sighted policy that induces apoplexy

IT was the late, great Jimmy Reid who, when asked by the theatre director Jonathan Miller, to which university he'd gone, replied:

"Govan Public Library."

Back in the day, the local library did - as we keep being told the Post Office does - many things.

Like the BBC, its aspiration was to educate, inform and entertain. Above all, it was a place to which people who did not have access to books could go and nourish their minds. What hope is there, I often wonder, for 21st-century Jimmy Reids?

There is, of course, the internet, for those with access to it. But it is a poor substitute for walls of books and the ear of a professional librarian who can steer you in the right direction.

The decision to curtail Wigtown Library's hours may indeed be paradoxical - given the town's status as our first book town - but it is hardly unusual.

Cash-strapped councils across the country often see libraries as easy targets in comparison to other services. The shortsightedness of this policy, if such it may be called, is enough to induce apoplexy.

Those of us who use libraries regularly appreciate just what an asset they are to communities that are increasingly being deprived of such places.

Often, come the onset of evening, the only light in a town centre is the one coming from the library.

That there is still a demand for them is obvious to all, it seems, but those who control the pursestrings.

Earlier this week, I visited Edinburgh Central Library - itself a pale shadow of its once glorious self - and there was not a seat to be had in its reference department.

Who were its users? Students from schools and universities. New immigrants surfing the web. Researchers and scholars, and a bloke looking for back issues of the Spectator and the New Statesman.

In short, a cross-section of society.

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