In August this year High Life Highland Libraries invited Austrian Librarian Astrid Neureiter to visit and take a tour of their mobile library services. For four days Astrid shadowed local librarians as they travelled through some of the most remote mobile routes in Scotland. Next year, a group of librarians from High Life Highland will travel to Austria to find out more about the services they offer. Here, Astrid talks about her unique experience.
In late August I travelled to Scotland to join High Life Highland Libraries and learn more about their mobile library service. This was my third trip to Scotland – this time not as a tourist but as a librarian – and visited 41 mobile library stations in four days. In that time I learnt so much about the library service and Scotland.
High Life Highland Libraries have 59 libraries (eight of which are book buses) and supply the 234,000 inhabitants of the Highlands with books, audio books and DVDs. On my first working day I started at Strathy Point and we worked our way along the Tongue Route. A total of ten stations were waiting for us and the first stop was at the Bettyhill Library. In the typical blue boxes we delivered new and reserved books.
The four-ton yellow bus also stopped at Tongue Primary School, where the librarian Michelle pressed strongly on the horn and all 18 pupils came out to borrow books. We were on the road until the early evening and many readers looked forward to the arrival of the mobile library.
Next day we drove through Sutherland and I learnt more about the daily life of a mobile librarian. It is remarkable, for example, that so many manuals and cookbooks are borrowed. One stop today was Balnakiel Craft Village, where people settled in the 60s to sell pottery and other homemade products. I also noticed that, compared to Austria, many male readers borrow books. How do Scottish librarians do that?
I’m now aware of how much the readers in the Highlands rely on mobile libraries and how important Michelle's work is. She knows all the readers and many have become friends. She calls when someone does not come to the bus to make sure they’re ok and when borrowers are ill, she looks for books for them and takes them to the house. She is a librarian with a heart and soul.
The mobile is more than a library service – people look forward to the visits and chat with Michelle. Many houses in the highlands are very secluded, with one borrower saying: “In the winter, you often do not see a soul, but you can be sure that Michelle comes with the book bus and I look forward to it!"
One advantage of the High Life Highland library system is that the readers can borrow books in one of the 40 libraries (and eight mobile libraries) and return them in another, all of which are interconnected. This is also why many seasonal workers and campers like to use the mobile library service. In addition, High Life Highland Libraries provide books to numerous reading groups. A total of 50 titles are available for selection (with groups getting up to 15 copies each) and are ordered long in advance as demand is very high. All these borrowings and services are free, with only a small amount paid for audio books and DVDs.
At the end of my week I travelled with John West, Principal Libraries Manager, on the long drive from the north to Inverness. He told me a lot about High Life Highland Libraries and I’m looking forward to telling Austrian librarians all about it. I am sure we can only benefit from this experience.
As I return home full of memories I can hardly say how grateful I am for this trip. Many thanks to the Austrian Library Assocation and High Life Highland Libraries, as well as librarians Ruan, June and John who looked after me so wonderfully. I would especially like to thank Michelle for spending four unforgettable days in the bus. Thank you very much and see you all next year in Austria!