Behind the Scenes at the Library: West Dunbartonshire

Alexandria Library building
Category: Reading

Alexandria Library is the second busiest library administered by West Dunbartonshire Council. It serves the population of the Vale of Leven.

It is housed in the Gilmour Institute and shared the premises with other council departments until 1988, when it became the sole occupant. As well as the main lending library, it has free Wi-Fi, a Learning Centre Computer Suite, Small Training and Meeting Room (Livingstone Suite) Junior Space, Reading Room, upstairs Training and Activity Zones, and MacMillan Drop-in Centre.


What do you love most about your library?

There are two things I love most about my library: the staff and the building.

The staff because they’re enthusiastic, incredibly committed and fun to work with, and the building because it’s old-fashioned but spacious and modern at the same time. The building has many interesting features which have been very sympathetically adapted over the years to accommodate more users.


Tell us something we don't know about your library

The building was originally the Gilmour Institute for Men. It was gifted to the people of Alexandria to provide a place for mental recreation and moral improvement and as a counter–attraction to the gin palaces of the Vale of Leven. I don’t know of any gin palaces nowadays, but I like to think we’re still providing an alternative attraction to the vagaries of modern life.


What’s your favourite book and why?

I always hope that my favourite book will be the one I’m about to read, but if I had to choose one it would be A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O’Nan. Written in the second person, it is a powerful, dark and poetic read. Books can have a good storyline, be enjoyable and not necessarily be well written, but in A Prayer for the Dying the beautiful prose just shouts out to you.


Excluding your library, what’s the best library you’ve ever been to?

I’m one of those sad people who enjoy checking out libraries and bookshops when I’m visiting other towns and cities. Sometimes it can make me jealous (wish I had thought of that display, or, if only we could afford that) but I still love the Mitchell Library in Glasgow the most. It’s a wonderful building and houses so much history and information. In the future I wouldn’t mind visiting that other lesser-known Alexandria Library in Egypt. Perhaps one day.


What is the strangest enquiry your library has had?

Being a busy community library we get many enquiries, some of which are too rude to mention, but I love the fact that people come into the library and expect you to have information about everything. My favourite was when someone came in asking about someone they had known forty years before but had little or no information about said person. Everyone had tried to help but knew nothing. It slowly dawned on me, however, that I knew who they were looking for (a lady who had lived upstairs from me and whom I had called Auntie). An amazing coincidence. Sometimes being local can have its benefits.


Describe a typical day in your library.

I believe that when you work in frontline services you can’t ever have a typical day but we do have routines. As well as the usual library duties we are constantly trying to come up with new displays and ideas.

School term times are more structured. We tend to have lots of user groups in and have to prepare accordingly - opening rooms, setting up furniture, etc. The library has so many spaces that we can have multiple events on at the one time, from MP surgeries, Bookbug sessions, smoking cessation classes, to even a youth theatre group. Also, children have found out we have free Wi-Fi and that we are a Pokemon stop. That definitely has attracted some different visitors. The diversity of our users makes for interesting days.

However, my favourite time of the year is the summer holidays when we try and entice our younger users into the library. As well as having the Reading Challenge, we put on many craft events which are always well received by children and parents alike. My favourite this year was tie-dye t-shirts which, by some miracle, we were able to hold in the garden. Yes… Alexandria Library is lucky enough to have a garden.


Find out more about West Dunbartonshire Libraries:


Twitter @wdclibraries

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Read more about libraries on our blog: Millie Grey on the Importance of Libraries and How Libraries Help Refugees

Claire Baillie

Claire Baillie is a Community Library Coordinator in West Dunbartonshire.

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