Communities suffer when library budgets are cut​​​​​​​ - Sean McNamara

How much value a nation or local authority attaches to its libraries can often be a good indication over how much it values its people.

In Scotland we have supportive politicians at all levels, a public that defends their libraries, a national strategy and strong collaboration between national bodies. And yet, the monetary support for libraries continues to fall often creating a culture of firefighting rather than the robust service building and forward planning we need in 2022.

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Libraries in Scotland help meet some of our biggest financial and societal challenges. They do this by providing life changing and equitable access to books and computers, by improving health and wellbeing, by reducing social isolation and by being free at point of use, often one of the only places that is in many communities.

Libraries are under threat of financial cuts. Picture: Jane Barlow/PALibraries are under threat of financial cuts. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA
Libraries are under threat of financial cuts. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA
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During recent campaigns, all major parties have been supportive of how essential libraries are at both local and national level. However, now the 2021 and 2022 elections are over, the proof of that will be seen in the coming months and years. Library budgets simply can’t be cut any further if they are to continue making the difference that they do.

Some reductions are down to councils not valuing libraries like they should, and as the professional body we will continue to challenge this wherever possible. However, in some cases the cuts are down to a local government funding picture that appears to no longer work.

There are no easy answers to this but public services like libraries all too often get caught in a financial blame game between local, national and UK governments and, as ever, the people who suffer are the deprived communities where libraries are needed most, particularly in the biggest cost-of-living crisis in a generation.

Libraries are backed by an excellent national plan and are hugely popular, recently gaining 45 million annual visits, up 40 per cent from 2010, yet spending has fallen by around 30 per cent in the same period. We have incredible libraries and skilled librarians, but they are dealing with year-on-year budget cuts and staff too often on low pay or insecure contracts. This cannot continue, Scotland’s communities and their librarians deserve better.

Sean McNamara, head of CILIP Scotland (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland)

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