Scotland

Looking back at mobile library's opening chapter

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Media captionExploring the origins of the mobile library service which began in Perth and Kinross in the 1920s

The mobile library is now familiar sight across Britain but its early editions began in Perthshire in the 1920s.

Today's hi-tech version bringing books to rural communities is a world away from the first ever mobile library in the UK.

It was a Ford van fitted with wooden shelves and holding between 800 and 900 books.

From 1921 it could be seen visiting towns and villages throughout Perthshire.

In 1924, Kent became the next area in Britain to start a similar service.

Nicola Cowmeadow, the local history officer for Perth and Kinross Council, said the first mobile library looked well organised.

She said: "Someone has given it a lot of thought. They have planned it all out, and the books are all there for people to pick and to choose.

Image copyright AK BELL LIBRARY

"Of course, this would have been part of a wider feeling to get people in rural areas access to books.

"So this would have been a delivery van really, which would have taken books out to a centre."

Dr Cowmeadow says the people who were running the centre would then have been able to choose the books they wanted to stock for the next period.

She says the books would then have been changed over and the vans would go back out.

They would refresh their stock and start the process again.

Dr Cowmeadow says: "It's not quite the way a mobile van would work today, with people approaching the van, but it did give whoever was working there the opportunity to choose the titles that they knew their readership would like."

The early mobile libraries covered large geographical areas.

John Balfour has 50 years experience with the libraries. He drove the mobile van across all parts of the area - and in all weathers.

Looking at photographs of himself working in an early version of a mobile library, he told council archivist Steve Connelly it would have been in 1949, after he did his National Service.

Mr Balfour says: "We did all Perthshire and Kinross, which was a big area, going to the likes of Aberfoyle, Rannoch and down to Kinross."

But nearly 95 years on from this ground-breaking idea, do libraries still matter?

Amina Shah, the CEO of the Scottish Library and Information Council, says: "Libraries have always been trusted street-corner universities, places where anyone can go, a free public space which is really important.

"They belong to their communities and for that to continue to be the case we need to make sure that libraries are relevant to people's lives today and continue to develop and change and grow."

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