Leader comment: Let there be light in our libraries

Public libraries offer a window on the world, a local community hub, and a peaceful environment. Picture Ian Rutherford
Public libraries offer a window on the world, a local community hub, and a peaceful environment. Picture Ian Rutherford
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It’s easy to take these places for granted, but anyone passing through the doors of Central Library in Dunfermline or its namesake in Edinburgh should take a moment to consider the ornate words of wisdom that welcome them: ‘Let there be light’.

Institutions such as these are the legacy of the 2,500 public libraries built by Andrew Carnegie, of which 600 were in the UK. It is a gesture which, 133 years since the doors opened at the first Carnegie library in his native Dunfermline, seems unimaginable today. But equally, Carnegie would hardly imagine that the facilities he created for the public good are under threat of closure not because they are no longer relevant, but because councils need to cut spending.

Today, a Scottish author who attributes his interest in literature to the discovery of books at a public library in Ayrshire is in the running for the prestigious Man Booker Prize.

Graeme Macrae Burnet has called for the nation’s libraries to be protected from closure and cutbacks, describing them as valuable community hubs, remarkable resources, and places where distractions can be put aside in the pursuit of knowledge or entertainment.

Libraries are all of the above and more. Even in the digital age of instant access to writings and records, not to mention the ubiquitous Kindle, the public hub of the local library remains at the heart of our communities.

While it is true that the benefits Mr Burnet has described cannot be put on a balance sheet, councils have a social responsibility to protect the assets they are guardians of, and libraries should be high on that list.

There may be a saving in closure, but a community which loses its library would be a poorer place indeed. Let the light shine on.