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‘I’ve read the same books twice during the pandemic’: Calls for Aberdeenshire Council to reinstate mobile libraries

Mrs Forbes has read The Forgotten Highlander by Alistair Urquhart, pictured, twice since she took it out of the mobile library in 2020.
Mrs Forbes has read The Forgotten Highlander by Alistair Urquhart, pictured, twice since she took it out of the mobile library in 2020.

A pensioner who has read the same library books twice for “something to do” during the pandemic is urging Aberdeenshire Council to bring back its mobile library service.

Alison Forbes was an avid user of the council’s mobile library, which toured the region and stopped in her village of Torphins on Wednesdays.

When it last visited in 2020, she picked up two books including Alistair Urquhart’s The Forgotten Highlander.

But as the pandemic took hold, the service was put on hold – with the vans eventually taken over by the NHS for track and trace clinics.

Last year, the authority confirmed they had no plans to reinstate the mobile libraries and instead launched a click and collect and home delivery service.

However, with more than 30 library services across the country recently being awarded a share of £400,000 to generate interest in reading, Ms Forbes hopes Aberdeenshire Council will reconsider.

She said: “I took two books out in 2020 and I still have them – I’ve read them both twice just to have something to read during the pandemic.

“There’s magazines from the shop, but that gets quite expensive.

“The mobile library was so good and it was very well used by the community. The chap in the van was great, if there was a book I wanted he would get it for me and bring it out the following week.

Alison Forbes is missing the mobile library service and wants Aberdeenshire Council to reconsider

‘Lots of us can’t just drive to the library’

“None of us are getting any younger – there’s lot of people like me who can’t just drive over to the central library in Aboyne or Banchory and we would like the mobile library back.

“Even if they could visit just once a month, we could take out more books at a time to keep us going. That’s only 12 times a year – it’s not that much of an ask.”

The 85-year-old, who likes to read adventure stories and keeps a note of the ones she’s taken out from the library, claims she had not heard of the home delivery service until the Press and Journal told her about it.

However, a spokesman for Live Life Aberdeenshire – the sports and cultural arm of the council – said efforts had been made to write to all previous users of the mobile library last year.

Under the council’s new model, readers can choose to “click and collect” a book from one of the main libraries, or if they are vulnerable, order one to be delivered.

He said the services have been “very popular” during the pandemic, adding: “Although our old diesel mobile library vans were redeployed as NHS testing stations earlier in the pandemic, we recognised an opportunity to create a more environmentally-sensitive method to deliver our doorstep delivery programme, and have invested in two electric vans.

“They are smaller and more agile than the previous diesel models, and should provide better access to our more remote and smaller villages. So our ambition has grown to provide not just a delivery service, but a portable source of inspiration, learning and wellbeing through curated book collections, events and staff interaction with isolated groups and individuals.

Meeting the ‘changing needs’ of communities

“We will be looking to develop a new programme in response to the changing needs of our communities, potentially stopping at schools, care homes, community centres and other spaces in the heart of our communities to deliver targeted work.”

Ms Forbes said there had been “quite a crowd” who had used the service, and that she had even considered swapping library books with others in the village so they could have some variety – but didn’t want to get into trouble.

She received a reminder that the books she took out in 2020, which also include an Anna Jacobs novel, were overdue last year but has not been fined.

Having read them twice, she strongly recommended The Forgotten Highlander – written by Aberdeen-born Gordon Highlander Alistair Urquhart.

“It’s very, very good,” she said. “It’s a powerful account of his time as a prisoner of war and the war in the Far East.”

Unable to freshen up her reading material, Ms Forbes kept busy during lockdown by knitting blankets for babies in Malawi and walking.

Banchory Library is one of the many in Aberdeenshire offering a click and collect service.

How do the new library services work?

Click and collect

The service is available at most of the libraries across the region, including Aboyne, Alford, Ballater, Banff, Banchory, Ellon, Fraserburgh, Huntly, Inverurie, Peterhead and Stonehaven.

There is an online catalogue or readers can opt for a “book bundle” – a selection of 10 books based on their likes picked by the library team.

Books can also be booked by phoning the Live Life Aberdeenshire helpline, or using the online chat.

Items can then be picked up and dropped off from the selected library at a pre-booked time.

Door step delivery

For those self-isolating or having trouble getting to a library there is a home delivery option within the areas near a Click and Collect library.

It is open to those with a disability, limited mobility, mental health issues, the frail or vulnerable, those who are ill or recovering from an accident.

People with difficulty travelling to use click and collect, or who have no one available to visit the library, can also register for the service.

The Live Life Aberdeenshire helpline is open from 9am-6pm Monday to Friday and 9am-2pm on Saturdays. Call 01467 532929.