Fort Williams Library (FWL) is situated in the town center’s tree lined pedestrian precinct.
Next to Ben Nevis, Scotland (and the UK’s) tallest mountain, FWL serves the municipality’s 10,000 people and used to be funded by its council, but is now one of 49 stationary and mobile facilities sharing resources and a unified catalog through High Life Highland (HLH), the agency responsible for adult education, culture, well being and recreation in the region.
In the foyer, a bulletin board heralds upcoming events in the vicinity. I browsed the rack of brochures then passed into a large room with lots of natural light from panes in the raised ceiling.
Right by the front, New Stock and recommendations on end caps lure you in. Signs on portable stacks announce categories like Romance and Health and an overhead big screen TV keeps you aware of current happenings.
On one level, Leabharlann a’ Ghearasdain as it’s known in the native tongue (sadly spoken by less than ten percent of the population these days) is tidy and friendly with free wifi, a microfiche, scanner and ten busy computers that are available for tourists and inhabitants alike.On little tables, a binder tells you “What’s going on in Lochaber” (the area around Fort Williams) and a suggestion box invites comments while the presentation panels display the results of a recent customer feedback questionnaire. Ensuing actions range from more Lego clubs, magazines and volunteer opportunities for adolescents to a Code Club for tweens and simplification of book sale prices (just pay what you can now!). According to the survey, 70 percent of respondents come weekly at least, and if not for HLH, around 40 percent wouldn’t have access to a PC or internet. But as the comments make clear, the system brings additional benefits – a homeless person feels it’s a welcoming spot to spend the day and another user appreciates the human contact and says it’s always a pleasure.
Continually striving for satisfied patrons, HLH employs mystery shoppers. Even using exacting standards, such as helping someone within five minutes, reports are quite positive, though street signage will be improved – a good way to bring in new members.
At the circulation desk, I spoke to the two cheery and informative library assistants.Nicola and Emma explained that HLH has vans to move things around since they can be dropped off at any site. Fort Williams is the second largest settlement in the northwest, so gets delivery each Thursday and second Monday while the main city, Inverness, gets it daily. New acquisitions often go back to their original home, but otherwise items stay so supplies are constantly refreshed, one more advantage of connecting so many locations.
Materials are barcoded but people preferred to have a chin wag with staff, so the self check idea was abandoned as was, due to the odd stuff people threw in, an outdoor book return.
Sconces give off a muted glow in this pleasant meeting space.
But the two reading groups, Craft and Chat, author appearances and the weekly adult programs usually happen in the larger Community Room.
HLH institutions put on a wide variety of activities. Take guitar or mandolin (!) lessons, discover photography and flower arranging, play Scrabble, attend the Mad Hatter’s Tea party or a family bake off, seek college guidance or have fun decorating rocks at Dotty Stones. Residents enjoy Books and Brews, frequent art days and quiz nights, and go to origami, calligraphy, jewelry making, writing, genealogy and poetry workshops. Expand your garden at the annual plant swap, get fit at Tai Chi and chair based yoga, or improve your watercolor and advanced knitting techniques.
On the website, peruse reviews, Gaelic titles, LGBT volumes, and special collections by branch or download free electronic newspapers, magazines, books, audios and over 19,000 digitized classic comics and graphic novels. Show support by clicking the donate tab, link to adult learning, or complete an entry form for the writing competition. The online reference library has a plethora of test, consumer, literary, language, business, research and cultural databases, plus software training videos.FWL has Playaways and lends audios for one pound and DVDs for less than two pounds for two weeks. It doesn’t cost to place holds or renew and adults can borrow up to 20 items at once for three weeks. Policy dictates that seniors aren’t charged late fees, under 16’s don’t have fines for adult books, and no one pays on juvenile and teen things!
Facebook is awash in images of HLH at festivals, videos of Teddy Bears’ Summer Camp, advertisements for Technobots, dyslexia advice, drama club and an architecture exhibit as well as cross promotions of district government entities and job postings. Walking tours, board game nights, assistance for Ipads and smart phones and an intergenerational gathering where the young teach the old computer skills round out the offerings.
The page is kind of an online gallery – one cluster of photos highlights different types of bikes (love the concrete one sporting a superfluous lock and chain). The Journal of the Van Man is a virtual ride with the bookmobile driver. Shots put you on the ferry he takes to one of his island stops and let you see the seasonal changes of a scenic viewpoint on the route, but the best was his favorite road sign – Caution Otters!
A third set features Bookbug as the stuffed animal mascot travels to castles, Roman baths and a safari park.
FWL stages story, song and rhyme for preschoolers four times a week. One of these sessions is in Gaelic and kids can choose titles from Polish, Russian and Lithuanian also. The library encourages class visits and instruction and the parents’ nook has materials on pregnancy and birth, special needs, difficult issues…
Children’s is furnished in primary hued picture book bins, bean bags, and a scarlet cushioned bench over storage drawers. Vibrant posters use cartoons to simplify Dewey and sequined crowns and princess costumes in the dress up crate let imaginations soar. Plush toys include a patchwork quilt pig, Kanga and Roo and Tigger too.
Tots get numbers practice from a carpet and wooden jigsaw puzzles and learn the alphabet via shelf separators with upper and lower case letters and an example noun. A colorful painting by a young talent of Hugless Douglas, the bear in a Celtic language translation for kids, adorns a wall by junior fiction…
…where a papier-mâché Nessie joins a monstrous carpet to remind you this is Loch Ness country.
How nice to find such a charming and useful establishment amidst the natural wonder of the Scottish Highlands.