Several generations of Barra children have been encouraged, led and stimulated to a lifetime love of reading by Castlebay community librarian Linda Mackinnon, who retires on June 11th after 36 years at her post.
And whatever the changes we have seen in the world recently, not seeing Linda among the bookshelves at the school and community library is likely to be one of the changes most keenly felt when staff and pupils return in August.
Linda Mackinnon was, according to one colleague and former pupil ‘there with the bricks’, having started work when the library opened in 1984. Michelle Maclean, now head teacher at Castlebay primary school, said: “I was a pupil at the school when Linda was first librarian and she has not changed one single bit in the whole time I have known her – in the way she presents herself or in the enthusiasm that she has for books and children.
“She has always been really supportive of the primary children, passionate about the library and the children using it. Her library is in the heart of the school, so the kids are in and out all the time.
“She helps us to organise book hunts in the library, puts together bundles of books ready for us to use for our school topics and organises World Book Day so that children can come in and vote for their favourite book, with voting slips and pencils all ready like a little election.”
School secretary Mairi Campbell is one of Linda’s contemporaries and passes through the school library every day on the way to the school office. She’s also a personal friend and sees Linda every day, and she has seen how times have changed while Linda has been in the job
She said: “I moved home to Barra in 1979 and the new school opened in 1983, which is when Linda started in the library. It was pen and paper that she used then and, when computers were introduced, she said 'Oh no, I'll stick with my pen and paper.' That didn't last – she became a whizz kid with the computer and there’s no pen and paper now.
“She is an amazing person and fantastic at her job – the children love her and she loves them. She is so keen to ensure that they are encouraged to read.”
Linda’s enthusiasm for books isn’t just limited to literature for children – she also keeps all the generations in Barra supplied with reading material matched to their interests.
Mairi said: “She has a huge passion for reading and it’s her own pastime too – she will quite happily spend hours reading. That shows when it comes to meeting the needs of library-users of all generations. She knows what people like and she is always picking books for them and thinking of other things that they would like.”
Linda’s passion for her job and for the people who come in to choose a good read has placed the library at the absolute heart of the Barra community, according to Western Isles head of libraries Kathleen Milne.
She said: “Linda is a born librarian, she just loves books. She knows what people like and her knowledge of children’s books is just extraordinary. Her mind is like a reference system – she knows where everything is kept and how to find something that would suit any reader.
“Her support for the children is fantastic. She is always encouraging them to read and suggesting what they could try.”
Retirement at a time of social distancing means there won’t be an event on June 11th – although staff are determined the day will not go unmarked. A proper send-off for Linda is planned when lockdown is lifted and people are free to gather and show their appreciation of everything she has done for the island’s readers.
In retirement, according to friend and colleague Mairi Campbell, she’s likely to spend more time appreciating her other passion, football. And, she says: “She’s a real sun-worshipper, so I can imagine her in a sun-lounger with a book in her hand and her cat by her side. We’ll definitely miss her, but it’s not as if she is going away from the island. I am sure we will be seeing her among the bookshelves still!”