Libraries and heritage by the sea: Saltcoats

What could be better on a summer Saturday morning than getting a train to the seaside? No buckets and spades required though – this was a CILIPS West outing to Saltcoats to view its library and Heritage Centre. Six visitors had a fine time thanks to the efficient arrangements made by Alison McAllister, Systems and Support Officer at North Ayrshire Libraries.

We began our visit in Saltcoats Library, set in a pretty park, where we were met by Area Librarian, Jim Macaulay. Librarians, as we know, are fuelled by cake, so it was good to start with coffee and strawberry tarts. The serious business over with, Jim told us a bit about the work of the Library before showing us round. It’s open 50 hours per week and serves a population of around 13000, from which result 6-7000 visits per month and 57000 adult and 14000 children’s issues per year. That sounds pretty good to me.

For those of us who hadn’t worked in public libraries (or not for a very long time in my case) Jim explained how everything they did had to be assessed against impacts set by the Scottish Government, i.e. they had to make a difference to the regeneration of North Ayrshire by increasing employability, educational attainment, or the health and well-being of the population. As well as regular library services such as books and digital information, staff worked hard to create a buzz and a hub of activity for the community. The Community Room we were sitting in was a case in point – it resulted from a focus group and now hosts book groups, homework clubs, children’s activities, a Credit Union, councillors’ surgeries, Knit-n-Natter and much more: it’s booked out most of the time.  I found it heartening that the terms community library and community hub could still be used in their proper sense and without the taint that they have recently acquired in other parts of the UK.

We were all very impressed with the bright, welcoming library and the use of display areas:

The children’s section is often the most colourful part of a library, and this was no exception. Love the penguins!

As in Glasgow, the library hosts a Macmillan Cancer Information and Support Service with discreet, and attractive, seating areas.

Then it was time to cross the road to the North Ayrshire Heritage Centre where our host was Jill McColl. Based in an old church, the Centre has been a museum since the 1950s, but now houses all aspects of heritage services: artefacts, family and local history resources, archives and art:

As with the library, the Heritage Centre also holds events including school groups, exhibitions (Troon Art Club at the moment) and craft fairs. For example All the Fun of the Fair on 12th July has fairground themed crafts, puppet shows and circus skills workshops. Outreach includes workshops in schools and reminiscence sessions in care homes. In addition, there are Heritage Trails in each North Ayrshire town using blue plaques and QR codes, and a huge Flickr collection, North Ayrshire Council Yesterdays – digital statistics are very healthy with almost 2 million views since the collection was started in 2009.

So with two interesting visits under our belts, we strolled along the seafront to Oscar’s Restaurant for lunch (yum) and a chat. At our end of the table, this focused heavily on social media – follow @NACLibraries if you want to keep in touch. I think we were all impressed with the range of services offered in both Library and Heritage Centre and with the enthusiasm and commitment of the staff. Thank you to Alison, Jim and Jill for everything they put into the day, and to my fellow visitors Anne, Gillian, Heather, Karly and Robert for their company. This might become an annual event – destination 2015 Millport?

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Anabel Marsh

I'm a proud Glaswegian who loves to go gallivanting both at home and abroad. Join me in my travels, both historic and current. Credit where credit's due: photography mostly by my more talented other half, John.

6 thoughts on “Libraries and heritage by the sea: Saltcoats”

  1. Who painted the front of the Saltcoats library ,I have never seen such an eye sore,why did the council not put this forward to the public to have a say in the design .

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