Robust opposition from the library users of Wigtown and Whithorn have forced Dumfries and Galloway Council to shelve plans to cut costs by slashing the opening hours in both facilities.
There was worldwide outrage earlier this year when the local authority announced that Wigtown Library, at the heart of Scotland’s National Booktown, would have its opening hours trimmed from 40 and a half to 17, while Whithorn Library faced a cut of three hours from 12 to nine.
But compelling business cases for increasing or retaining opening hours presented to the council by the two communities seems to have secured a u-turn in policy and, on Tuesday, the council’s Community and Customer Services Committee look set to rubberstamp opening hours for Wigtown of 28 and allow Whithorn to retain its current 12 hours.
Wigtown Community Council leader Nick Walker said: “Wigtown CC and the other organisations involved in establishing our business case, indeed the whole of the wider community, are pleased that D&GC looks likely to cut Wigtown library hours by much less than originally proposed.
“The process by which the council decides on allocation of savings is fundamentally flawed and unfair. It will always disadvantage communities like those in the Machars disproportionately because of the combined effects of small size and remoteness from larger population centres. At public meetings about library services, Council officers did not appear to understand this, let alone accept the need for their process to be amended as we sought.
We hope that Councillors will approve the proposals for Wigtown library to remain open 28 hours per week when the Community and Customer Services Committee meets on April 15. And we encourage them to do so.
“We are pleased too that Council officers have publicly stated that Wigtown County Buildings opening hours will not be reduced and that the iconic building will continue to be properly maintained.
“As our town states: Let Wigtown Flourish!”
Whithorn Community Council secretary Julia Muir Watt added: “The community council is delighted that 12 hour opening has been retained for Whithorn Library. We understand that the council has to cut costs, but we had looked at the council case for cutting hours and decided that it would be more rational to attempt to reduce heating and energy costs, which seem very high. As the building is owned by the Common Good Fund, that may be an advantage, when it comes to looking at energy efficiency measures. We also hope to work with the libraries service to look at usage and ways in which the library can appeal to more people, including young people.”
Mid Galloway Councillor Jim McColm commented: “I welcome the recommendations as this is a significant improvement on the original proposed opening hours. Wigtown Community Council put forward a strong business case and I am pleased to see the council officers have increased to 28 hours, still a significant reduction on the current hours.
“At Whithorn I am pleased to note the retention of the current 12 hours.”
Councillor Tom McAughtrie, chairman of the Community and Customer Services Committee, said, “I welcome the proposals to increase the opening hours of the four facilities. Our Council is committed to the savings that the Integration of Libraries, Registration offices and Customer Service Centres will make. However, we are sympathetic and understanding of the importance of these facilities for their communities. The communities in Langholm, Moffat, Whithorn and Wigtown have asked for a small increase in opening hours through well-presented business cases.”