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LoveReading Library of the Month #2: Orkney Library

Liz Robinson

By Liz Robinson on 20th September 2018

Our second installment of Library of the Month takes us just past the northeastern coast of Scotland to Orkney Library. Read on to find out more about the oldest public library service in Scotland.

Orkney Library is rather special, though I’ve never been (it is on my list of places to visit), I avidly follow them on twitter @OrkneyLibrary as they have such a strong, vibrant social media presence. Have a quick look at their twitter feed and you can see why our libraries are so necessary and important in our local communities. A little bit of humour and lots of interesting snippets keep me (and over 41,000 other twitter users) thoroughly entertained.

Tell us about your library and the area it sits in.

We are a small island library service serving 21,500 people in Scotland’s smallest local authority. Our headquarters are in Kirkwall with a branch in Stromness which is part of a multi purpose council facility.  We have a mobile library service and a book box service for library members on our smallest islands. There is also a Home Library Service for people who cannot visit our library buildings. Orkney Library and Archive is the oldest public library service in Scotland, established in 1683 and we were delighted to win the Booksellers Library of the Year award in 2015.

Describe your library in three words.

More Than Books

Apart from plenty of reading material, what other services does your library offer?

Apart from reading material we offer museum loan boxes, jigsaws, DVDs, music on CD, and a free music service which allows library members to download and stream their favourite tracks. We have wifi facilities and public access computers. We also offer meeting rooms and foyer space for hire.

What is the strangest book-related question your team has been asked?

A lady emailed from Brisbane asking about books she had read which were written by a woman who had been a teacher and had moved to Orkney for health reasons. She said that the books were set in the 1960s and the author’s name began with B. After much searching we came up with 'The Windswept Isles' by Elizabeth Balneaves, which was actually about Shetland, not Orkney but our Australian reader was sure that wasn’t it and had just come back from a walking tour of Flinders Island where one of the other walkers has read the same books and they knew they were set in Orkney. We were baffled. Two and a half months later we got an email from the same reader who told us that she had just woken up and remembered the authors name. it was Lillian Beckwith, who’s books are set on Skye! A wild author chase but a happy ending.  

If you were to become a character from a book for the day, who would it be and why?

It would be Winnie-the-Pooh for his kind, optimistic outlook on life and his dear love of his trusted friends. A great team player.

What’s been the biggest surprise about working in a library?

Is that it’s all about the people, not about the books. Our library service is about the people in our community and how they use the space and resources to enrich their lives, support their work and spend time with their families.

What are your top three must-reads?

The Orkneyinga Saga, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and the very wonderful Ocean, A photicular Book which (when its in the library) we play with on a daily basis.

What is your favourite book from your childhood, and why did you love it?

My favourite book when I was growing up was A Child’s Garden of Verses by R. L. Stevenson.  It felt like opening a treasure chest whenever I turned the pages because the illustrations by Brian Wildsmith were the most beautiful pictures I had ever seen. Gazing at those pictures as my mum read me the wonderful words is one of my favourite childhood memories.

Why are libraries such a vital link in our communities?

A library is central to its community and everyone uses it in different ways.  There can be no other service that is free and inclusive, with no need to book and the flexibility to be used by all sorts of people in all kinds of ways.

Keep up to date with Orkney library through their website (, Email (, Twitter (@OrkneyLibrary) and Facebook (@orkneylibraryandarchive).

If you enjoyed this, why not read our other Library of the month features?

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