AN AWARD-WINNING crime writer has given his backing to a campaign by parents in Largs to save North Ayrshire's school librarians from the axe.

Liam McIlvanney, the son of the late William McIlvanney, has been joined by children's author Lindsay Littleson and Largs playwright and theatre director Andy McGregor in speaking out against the controversial cuts.

North Ayrshire Council (NAC) approved a 'redesign' of the local authority's school library service in February.

The service currently employs two full-time and three part-time staff. 

No further information was provided when the 'redesign' was approved at the council's annual budget meeting, but it later emerged that the move is likely to see the service cut to just two full-time posts, with the current staff having to re-apply for the remaining roles.

A petition protesting at the cuts has been signed by 1,000 people across the area.

Liam McIlvanney was born in Scotland and studied at the universities of Glasgow and Oxford. He has written for numerous publications, including the London Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement.

His first book, Burns the Radical, won the Saltire First Book Award, while his 2018 crime novel, The Quaker, won him the McIlvanney Prize, named after his late father,  for the best Scottish crime novel of that same year.

Liam spent time living in Fairlie with his family in 2018 and spoke to the News at the time about how he was "loving life" in the community.

He and his family returned to the area for a spell last year.

Largs and Millport Weekly News: Liam McIlvanney said he is 100% supportive of Parent Council campaign in opposing school library cutsLiam McIlvanney said he is 100% supportive of Parent Council campaign in opposing school library cuts (Image: Newsquest)

Liam, who is the Stuart Professor of Scottish Studies at the University of Otago in New Zealand, said: "When I was back home in Ayrshire for most of last year I was privileged to visit some secondary schools and talk to students, including students at Largs Academy, where my two youngest sons were enrolled.

"What struck me was not just the intelligence and the intellectual vigour of these students.

"It was the amazing breadth of reference in their understanding of literature, and the fact that they were reading everything from Arthur Conan Doyle to Dostoevsky.

"They were very clear that the library, and the school librarian, had been instrumental in expanding their horizons in firing their imagination.

"We need to be clear that libraries are fundamental here to our students' intellectual development and wellbeing, and any claim that Scotland may have to be a truly cultured country."

Andy added: "Libraries are gateways to knowledge, creativity, and possibilities, and this feels like a backward step.

"For a lot of young people, the school library will be their first experience of being in a library.

"How better to cultivate an interest in learning and being in that space than opening up that possibility when you are young? It will become a learned behaviour for years to come.

Largs and Millport Weekly News: Andy McGregor says it is retrograde step to cut school library services Andy McGregor says it is retrograde step to cut school library services (Image: Newsquest)

"If you are cutting young people's interest in libraries at school, then the next step is cutting local public library services, and that would be a disaster.

"Having an expert skilled librarian on school campus can help those who want to do a deep dive into a subject or genre.

"Librarians can introduce new books and new ideas, and can point students in the right direction and find books that otherwise they would not have found.

Lindsay, who won the Kelpies Prize for her first children's novel, The Mixed Up Summer of Lily McLean, in 2014, said: "As an ex primary teacher I am shocked and disappointed by these proposals.

"A school library without a qualified librarian is just a set of bookshelves.

Largs and Millport Weekly News:

"It is the librarian who helps the pupils to choose the books they love and encourages reading for pleasure.

"It is the librarian who makes the library a safe place that children can escape to and read in piece, and makes it a calm and safe study space

"I know that budgets are tight but would beg North Ayrshire Council to reconsider.

"As Andrew Carnegie stated, a library outranks any other one thing that a community can do to benefit its people.

"They are the last place where you should be making cuts if you truly value raising attainment and literacy, you need to treasure your librarians."

A North Ayrshire Council spokesperson said: “We will be carrying out a review of staffing levels in school libraries over the coming months and we anticipate that a new structure will be in place by August.

“Once the redesign of the service is complete, the process of implementation and how individual staff may be affected will be considered in partnership with the relevant unions.

“We have had positive discussions surrounding the options and possibilities of shaping a different offer for our children and young people. This will be built on now that the decision has been made.

“We appreciate how important libraries and literacy are for the development of our young people. The views of young people will be very important and will play a key part in the engagement process to help us create a new model that doesn’t compromise this.

“We will provide further updates when more details can be confirmed."