Booking in some colourful times after the war

The mobile library van in Midlothian during the 1960s. Photo: Midlothian Council Local Studies
The mobile library van in Midlothian during the 1960s. Photo: Midlothian Council Local Studies

2015 – This was the 50th anniversary of the opening of our library in Newtongrange, writes Advertiser reader Christine Grieve in the first installment of a three part series.

It was everything a library should be – bright, comfortable, spacious – and, best of all, in my view at least, crammed with interesting and colourful books all of which, if properly read, possess miraculous powers to transport me to a new and exciting world – just like owning my very own magic carpet!

Our village of Newtongrange did not always have such great facilities to be found in such a pleasant centrally-positioned library.

Just after the Second World War, our country was almost bankrupt and there was no extra cash to build a “brave new world” with educational amenities for the new tenants of all the housing schemes mushrooming up around Midlothian. Therefore a “stop gap” had to be found to take the place of all the old and somewhat decrepit premises that had been used as public libraries for generations of miners who had lived and worked in our area.

A big and unwieldy grey van filled with lots of new books was the council’s answer to that somewhat urgent problem. The haphazard plan was that the van would be driven to council-delegated sites during the working week and stand there for several hours at a time so that keen new readers could come to look round and often browse before choosing their books which would mainly consist of brand new westerns (the working men’s favourite) and gorgeously romantic love stories for the ladies. Those were the staple diet of our reading public at that time although the van did also have one small section devoted to non-fiction. Alas, there was no room to carry children’s books as the local schools were provided with library boxes for each classroom.

We had been starved of new books during the war since few had been printed due to the dearth of paper – and there were more important things to be done at that time – like defeating Hitler!

The new post of mobile librarian must have been thought only suitable for some young person who would not need to be paid as much as a more mature and more experienced lady or gentleman. Someone who would be glad of a job and therefore might overlook the pitfalls of starting a new experimental post. If the concept turned out to be a complete wash-out, the Library Committee could always withdraw the offending van from service.

A young person had to be found who lived locally and who would be capable of sitting still for several hours at a time issuing books to all the keen new readers who would surely drop in to inspect the big van. That was their great hope! It was believed that the additional clientele would not only be attracted by the close proximity of this new service to the tenants’ homes and to the brightly-coloured new books found on the large and commodious vehicle which were so different from the usual stock of the ancient, dull and grubby looking books held in the old miners 
institute libraries.

Part two next week