You’d expect Dumfries and Galloway councillors to be proud to support books and literature for two reasons.
First, in 1998 the people of Wigtown campaigned successfully to become Scotland’s National Book Town, taking on a responsibility to be a beacon of reading, learning and exploring through books.
There are two festivals held every year and the town remains vital to the local economy as the home to a number of excellent bookshops and associated businesses.
Secondly, in the mid-19th century, the MP for Dumfries was a man called William Ewart. Many of his achievements have been forgotten, but he is remembered as a pioneer of public libraries. It was in 1850, midway through his 27 years as the town’s MP, that he carried a bill through parliament, the Public Libraries Act, establishing free libraries to be paid for by public funds. Previously, there had been subscription libraries but the establishment of public libraries was a radical move giving everyone access to books. The main library in Dumfries was named after William Ewart and you can still see a bust of the great man there. I’m surprised that it didn’t fall from it’s plinth this week.
In their wisdom, Dumfries and Galloway Council has this week voted to more than halve the opening hours of Wigtown library. The short-sighted move has been condemned by the town’s festival director, Adrian Turpin, who had previously added his voice to the protests against proposed cuts. I agree with his statement that the decision has sent “terrible messages about the value placed on the book town. It is going to look very shabby to people outside the region, including the thousands of visitors to Wigtown each year because they see it as a place that values culture”.
I believe councillors have a responsibility to defend – even promote – the library service in a region celebrating its literary credentials. It is, after all, Scotland’s book town and the burial place of the nation’s most important poet, among its many other links to literature and learning.