'A life line': Woodside residents face harsh reality as beloved library sits empty
Updated: May 2
Book group left without venue as alternatives found to be unaccessible or too expensive
By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco
Susan is a retired nurse. Christine wanted to read more and meet new people. Julie found the library an accessible place to make friends and get out of her flat. Susan S is widowed, and has used the library for over 30 years.
Now, after Council budget cuts shuttered the building last month, these women, all regular attendees of a book group held at Woodside Library, are unsure what will happen next.
Since the end of last year, Christine told The Gaudie, members have met at the historic library on the 3rd Wednesday of each month, sharing their thoughts on what they read and enjoying one another’s company.
Now, with Woodside Library closed, the group has struggled to find a suitable venue to host meetings.
Council representatives from the library service offered nearby Tillydrone Library as an alternative site, but members told The Gaudie this would not be feasible for many in their group.
Christine said: ‘Tillydrone Library is really too far to walk from Woodside at our ages and there are no direct buses to get there. It would require two buses there and two back again. Time involved would be an issue also.’
Likewise, Julie, who uses a wheelchair, commented on the problems she would face in travelling to Tillydrone.
‘To get to Tilly, I've to travel on a very busy main road as the 'drop kerb' that is there is too high for my wheelchair to manage. The drop kerbs that are there often have cars parked in front of them so I cannot get onto the pavement. Meaning I've to travel further on the road with traffic coming the opposite way attempting to get onto the pavement,’ she said. ‘It is just so frustrating when the feedback is Tilly is really close. It's too far for me.’
Council representatives also suggested Hilton Community Centre as a possible location, but told the women that they might have to pay for a space at the venue. For the group, many of whom are retired and on reduced incomes, this is not a solution.
Christine commented: ‘We shouldn’t have to pay for what we were originally getting for free. We are entitled to our free space.’
Julie added: ‘The alternative locations to Woodside library have been suggested that we would have to pay to use them. Why should we when the library was free?’
With a lack of suitable public spaces in Woodside, the women fear that their small community of book lovers won't be able to meet anymore.
For many, this will result in losing out on valuable friendships and social interactions.
Julie said: ‘Book Group is a life line for friendship and company. I've made friends through it that I never knew were neighbours.’
Susan S added: ‘Joining Book Group was going to be useful in terms of considering different genres & meeting people.’
Similarly, Susan (the retired nurse) told The Gaudie: ‘I joined the book group to get back into reading actual books and different genres.’
Christine commented: ‘I live on my own, I was looking to meet some like minded people who perhaps become friends. Certainly I needed to expand my knowledge of literature and thought this was the ideal way of doing both.’
For these women, the library is not just 'a building' (to use the infamous comments of SNP Councillor Hazel Cameron). It is a community hub, a safe space, somewhere to share life with others.
While the Council saved 280,000 pounds by shuttering the libraries, the true cost of the closures has yet to be known.
Multiple FOI requests have confirmed that Aberdeen City Council did not perform a community consultation or an in-depth (Stage 2) impact assessment for the six libraries closed across the city, including Woodside.
If they had, there is no doubt they would have heard from Julie, Christine, and the Susans.
Perhaps if the book group had been consulted, and shared their experiences, councillors would have been persuaded to keep the libraries open.
But that didn’t happen, and these women, along with countless other Aberdonians, have been left to pick up the pieces of the Council’s decision.