Russell Leadbetter

AWARD-winning Scots author Ali Smith has spoken of her heartfelt concern about the impact of library closures.

Smith, whose most recent novel, How To Be Both, won awards and critical praise, said it was "very important" to think about the "draconian" effect of spending cuts.

She told the Edinburgh International Book Festival that in November she will bring out a collection of short stories, entitled Public Library and Other Stories.

She told her audience that they were stories she has been writing over the last seven or eight years, "with little nodules, a spine, holding it together, which is about what books are about".

She added: "In the three or four weeks I was editing it, I asked everybody I met to tell me something about their public library experiences in their lives and what they think about the closures that have been happening in this country to public libraries.

"In the space of me doing that asking, 28 libraries closed. In the space of me writing those stories over seven years, 1,000 public libraries closed.

"Something is happening which is happening under the radar about this and it is very important that we all think about it."

Local authorities that have experienced the "draconian" effect of spending cuts did not like to say that libraries were merely closing, she said. .

"They like to say that they are becoming 'community libraries' - that means that nobody gets paid to look after them, and that volunteers look after them, and it does mean in the end that they will fall apart.

"There is something about a furiously important tradition that we have, of the democracy of reading, the democracy of space.

"Everybody I asked said, 'The library made me'."

Among the writers who responded to her request were Kate Atkinson and Jackie Kay.

"We know that books make us," Smith added. "We know they are things which give us life, understanding and knowledge, and why in any way we would not each stand up and yell at a culture that takes that away from the generations coming behind us."

Her comments come after a major review concluded that volunteers should not replace professional staff in local authority-run libraries.

The report commissioned by the Scottish Library and Information Council said unpaid staff could play a useful role in supplementing services but should not replace a facility run by professional librarians with local authority involvement.

Smith's talk came on the first weekend of the book festival and the second of the Fringe Festival and the Edinburgh International Festival.

A protest was held outside the Usher Hall as performers demonstrated against BP's sponsorship of the latter event. Friends of the Earth Scotland, Edinburgh University People & Planet and activist theatre group BP or not BP? organised the protest.

Ric Lander, of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "Speaking to people at the festival today a lot of folk seem to agree that we should not let climate-wrecking companies like BP use Scotland's treasured public arts to buy a veneer of respectability."

On the Royal Mile, a number of street performers entertained the crowds. They included Kurt Murray, otherwise known as Dr Bubble, and Korean dance company Pan, both of whom have shows on.

Over the weekend First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also attended the Edinburgh Military Tattoo and took part in a toast at the event, which is on until August 29.