Combining museum and modern library

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A REPORT on the future uses of Inglis Memorial Hall will go before Angus Council’s neighbourhood services committee, over a month after it was due to be considered.

The report, first due before the committee in August, was delayed after Councillor Donald Morrison, convener of the neighbourhood services committee, made the decision to withdraw it after it emerged that changes to the report had been made after both Councillor Morrison and vice-convener Councillor Jeanette Gauld had approved it.

Inglis Memorial Library, which consists of a collection of some 6,000 volumes, contains the original stock gifted to the village of Edzell by Lieutenant-Colonel R.W. Inglis and is considered to be the best preserved example of a Victorian public library in the United Kingdom.

The building and associated furnishings, books and monetary funds are held in trust and subject to the Deed of Gift granted by Lieutenant-Colonel Inglis in 1898 - requiring the building to be used as a public hall, library, reading room, caretaker’s room and associated purposes for the special use and benefit of the residents of Edzell.

Currently the collection is held on the upper floor of the building leaving the ground floor available to potentially be returned to the original 1898 layout, recreating a Victorian library as part of a museum/visitor attraction .

Initial investigations have identified a number of potential features of development, including the conservation of the unique stained glass windows and mosaic ‘librarian’ panel above the vestibule door as well as the replacement of various features to emulate those present in 1898.

Ron Ashton, director of neighbourhood services explains: “A restored Victorian library could become a unique visitor attraction but, to be sustainable, the staffing of the Inglis Memorial Library would need to be undertaken by volunteers.”

Although Edzell residents have access to the mobile library van they have campaigned for the re-introduction of a modern lending library in the hall – something that the neighbourhood services committee are being recommended to progress for consideration as part of the 2013/14 budget setting process although a volunteer library assistant may be needed.

In March, 2012, a community consultation carried out by Angus Council found that 86 per cent of Edzell households,who responded to the questionnaires stated they would be interested in a combined historic and modern library, something Edzell Library Action Group (ELAG) continues to favour if staffed by a council library assistant.

ELAG member Jean Smedley said: “Whilst the ‘combined’ option involves some volunteer input, unlike the ‘museum’ option it does not rely solely on volunteers – which is important as people in this community do a huge amount of volunteering already.

“It would cost just £5,000 a year to staff the ‘combined’ option. That £5,000 could in effect provide a modern lending library service and a historical attraction service, possibly even a tourist information service too. That’s three services for just £5,000 – that represents great value for money.

“Angus Council has a library revenue budget of over £1 million a year. The burghs each receive over £100,000 a year library revenue budget – it does not seem unreasonable that Edzell should ask for just £5,000 – especially when that money could achieve so much.

“For me one of the most important issues is the Trust. Inglis Memorial Hall and the Victorian books were given for the use and benefit of the community and are held in Trust by Angus Council, subject to the terms and purposes of the Trust. Whatever happens, it must take into account the terms and purposes of the Trust.

“The old library room has been locked since 2010 when the modern lending library was withdrawn. In my opinion this community has a legal entitlement to that room and I believe access to it should be returned as soon as possible.

“However it cannot just be left unmanned because of the historical aspects.

“Plus, as libraries receive about eight times more visitors than museums alone, it makes sense.”

She continued: “The combined option ensures the historical aspects are restored and promoted, provides a better modern lending library service for the community, gives more rooms for historically interested visitors, would receive greater usage and is, I believe, more fully in line with the terms of the Trust.

“I don’t think it is unreasonable to ask for what is actually a very tiny share of Angus Council’s £1 million-plus budget, especially when it could provide so much and solve so many problems.

“In the future, should the caretaker’s flat in Inglis Memorial Hall be refurbished and used in lieu of salary, it could even be for free.

“Some capital expenditure may be required but this need not be a problem. Angus Council is to be spending £150,000 redeveloping Kirriemuir library for example, so it is not a case that new things cannot happen. The costs for Edzell would be far less than that.

“Ultimately it is about acting in the best interests of the Trust, what grants can be obtained and how Angus Council choose to allocate the budget that they have. Hopefully the meeting on the October 4 will allow the situation to move a step further forward.”