Thursday, 24 January 2013

On the Road with Steven (& the Home Library Service)

Steven Gough loaded up the Library van today with boxes of books and we set off along snowy roads to deliver them to various readers round Kirkwall. This is the Home Library Service (HLS), run by Orkney Library & Archives and delivered by Steven - mostly - every week.

Family Boxes

First stop, the pier, to see if there were any Family boxes back from the North Isles to be refilled. As a child I remember the excitement in my granny's house in Stronsay when the box of books arrived. I was ten, but she let me read some of her 'romances', books with pictures of English country gardens, hollyhocks and thatched roofs on the covers, delivered to my granny's cottage beside the sea in Stronsay. They were thrilling and mysterious to me. That service continues to this day.

Steven disappeared inside the Harbour Authority warehouse, but there were no boxes today. The snow over most of Orkney may have put some folk off making the trip to the pier in the outer isles.

Home Library Service

The next stop took us up the snow-covered hill past Orkney College. Steven went in to a reader's house with their latest haul of books. 

Many of the people who benefit from the service are elderly and can't get about much any more. 

But there are many circumstances that prevent people coming in to the library and the service is also available to younger people with chronic illnesses and to carers who can't leave the people in their care.

What to Choose!

Steven told me that when he started running the service, he was daunted by the task of choosing books that would meet the approval of the readers he encounters. But he soon learned what they like and what they don't. In the fortnight between deliveries, he keeps his eye out for the books that his customers might enjoy - titles new to the catalogue, returned books - and he builds up the boxes gradually. While he's shelving books, or issuing them at the desk, he's always thinking of the folk in the HLS.

Museum Boxes

Today, Steven also had to deliver Museum boxes to Papdale Primary School, boxes full of objects and information about the way people in Orkney used to live. A good way for teachers to bring history alive for primary school children.

Mavis Goldsmith

I had a treat in store then, for Steven had asked one of his stalwart borrowers if I could come and talk to her. He introduced me to Mavis who is in her nineties and found herself struggling to get in to the library about five years ago. In a conversation at the issue desk, Steven told her about the HLS. She was delighted and has been taking advantage of it ever since. 

'It's an excellent service,' she told me. 'It's one of the things I rely on. I'll read almost anything - travel, crime - though not the nasty stuff; I read in bed and I would have bad dreams if it was too horrific. Biography and autobiography too; I like reading about other people's experiences. But I do insist on large print. I don't choose the books myself, Steven does; he knows what I like. I'm very well looked after. I just need him to find me a man as well; you can't cuddle up to a book!' 

Steven told her he had a poster up in the library advertising for a man for her and Mavis laughed!

Mavis doesn't like getting her photograph taken, but that's her book box above. Quite a variety!

Gilbertson Day Centre

One of the parts of the service is that Steven delivers boxes of books to the community rooms in Day Centres for the elderly and sheltered housing. Today we visited Lambaness and here's Steven replacing the books in Gilbertson Day Centre. People can just take a book from the shelf without having to have it date stamped. 

'Sometimes books disappear for a while,' Steven says, 'but they always come back in the end.'

You wait all your life for one Mavis, then two ...

Another treat was in store for me when Steven introduced me to Mavis Lee in her home out beside a snowy Scapa. She was waiting with her rescue cat Daisy for delivery of her books. 

'I used to go to the library regularly till my mobility deteriorated. So I was really glad to discover I could have books delivered to me. I wrote out a list of my favourite authors and that gave Steven a nucleus to start with. I read books now I wouldn't have read before. I like a story - writers like Marcia Willet, Cynthia Harrod Eagles, Rosamund Pilcher - not violence for the sake of violence. When you live alone you can find yourself dwelling on it. I need good books to turn to - don't want to have the TV on all the time. It adds another dimension to what I have around me.  

'We're very lucky in Orkney. When Steven comes with the van, it's another contact - somebody bringing news from outside. I've read all my own books so often. With Steven choosing books for me that I might not have thought of, this service has expanded my reading, widened it. I like something fresh. Steven brought me a book based around spices recently. I'd never have picked it for myself, but it was thoroughly interesting. I would be lost without this service.'

We left Mavis then, got into the van and drove through the snowy landscape back to the library in the heart of Kirkwall. I was left mightily impressed with Steven's work and this little known service that goes on quietly delivering books, cheer, a lifeline to people for whom the journey into the library has become too much.

If you know someone whose life could be enhanced by regular delivery of a box of books. Please get in touch. Oh, and I forgot to say, it is a FREE service.  

For more information about the Home Library Service, 
phone Orkney Library & Archives on: 01856 873166.


  1. I'm loving your blog Alison; the pictures really bring the library service to life.


    1. Thank you, Mo. I really appreciate the feedback. It's hard to know sometimes who is reading it. Delighted you approve.


  2. Hello from the HLS in Wandsworth SW London. Your views are certainly more spectacular but your readers seem exactly the same! Keep up the good work!

  3. Thank you for your comment! Best wishes to you for your Home Library Service too. I bet you have some cracking urban landscapes there, as well as interesting users!


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