This is the third edition of my Idler column about interesting libraries.
Scotland’s oldest public library
By Robert Wringham
The modern provincial library is a useful thing if you want to check your hotmail account or read a biography of Sharon Osborne. Due to the pressure put upon librarians by councils to increase the number of books issued, public libraries often fall victim to fad and fashion: constantly acquiring books connected to popular TV shows, pop bands or literary trends. Titles relating to Pokemon, Furbies, The X Files or The Spice Girls strangely don’t get checked out anymore and so it must all be discarded by way of a book sale or a cermonial burrial to make way for the new stuff: Harry Potter, Celebrity Love Island and Arctic Monkeys.
And so the library becomes a transient entity: in a permanent state of flux, constantly mutating in order to keep up with what’s in vogue. In the event of a viral apocalypse, alien historians will be able to look at our abandoned libraries in order to see precisely how the silly Earthlings occupied themselves circa the time of their downfall. “Audiotape biographies of Big Brother contestants?” they’ll exclaim, “No wonder it ended so agonisingly”.
It is precisely the transient nature of libraries that comes to mind when visiting the marvellously static library at Innerpeffray: an institute proud to advertise that it was the first public lending library in Scotland.
The library no longer circulates its books or even updates its collections. It exists as a relic of days gone by; as a walk-in time capsule from the nineteenth century. Believe me when I say that this is no criticism. It’s not uncommon for romantic idlers to pine for a less-strenuous past: a time in which trash culture did not flood into our every orifice through iPods and billboards and reality television shows; a time in which work did not involve sterile open-plan offices and pikeys in pinstripe dishing out meaningless task after meaningless task. Of course, such an idea is childishly idealistic: the societal cankers of the nineteenth century (disease, slavery, heavy industry, music halls) were far worse than the mild nonsense we tolerate today. Nonetheless, one can be excused for believing in an ideal and idle past if using Innerpeffray Library as evidence.
The library itself is a fairly small enclave of book-filled cabinets. “Dickensian” is probably the word most people would search for to describe it. Large, old-fashioned desks occupy most of the floor space, which in turn are covered with open and antiquarian books resting delicately on cradles. A view from a window reveals yet more history: an old chapel, a graveyard and a closed-down school. Innerpeffry is Victorian Scotland’s version of Pompeii.
The couple who look after the library are the charming Colin and Anne Edgar. They seem surprised at receiving visitors and instantly set about making cups of tea. When I mention that I too am a librarian, they get out the biscuits.
Innerpeffray Library is certainly worth a visit if you live in Scotland or are visiting the nearby cities of Perth or Stirling. Admission is £2.50 (50p for kids).