Support our Libraries: Libraries were never just about books - Nick Poole

Ah, libraries. It’s a word that conjures images of quiet spaces, books in serried ranks on endless shelves. The atmosphere of calm. That smell – of old book covers and wisdom handed down through the ages.

If you haven’t been down to your local library recently, you’d be forgiven for missing the quiet revolution that’s been going on between the stacks. Libraries have been busy, transforming themselves into bustling hives of activity, online access, meet-ups, reading, creativity and conversation (and yes, the odd quiet space for book lovers too).

This is why we are so grateful to Scotland on Sunday for its campaign, casting a light on the new world of libraries and why everyone everywhere should be able to benefit from a modern, local library service.

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Support our Libraries: Scotland on Sunday campaign launch
Scotland has always been something of a powerhouse when it comes to public libraries. Picture: Getty

Scotland has always been something of a powerhouse when it comes to public libraries. When the world’s first Carnegie Library was opened in Dunfermline in 1883, only 23 per cent of the UK population had access to a library. By 1915, thanks to Carnegie’s belief (and his mother’s) that every community should have a ‘street corner university’ at its heart, this figure had risen to over 60 per cent - an unprecedented investment in literacy and learning for working people.

Fast-forward 100 years, and some recent research from the Carnegie UK Trust shows that people in Scotland are more likely to use their local library than anywhere else in the UK. A whopping 77 per cent of the Scottish electorate in 2019 cited libraries as being “very important to my community”.

A child born in Scotland today is going to grow up in a world so radically different from the one we grew up in that we can hardly imagine. They will live their lives in the glare of a mobile screen that is always on, always connected and busily hoovering up data on how they spend their online lives.

Nick Poole. Picture: CILIP

Future generations are going to need to be canny about information – where they get it, how they use it, how to decide whether it’s true or not. Fake news and misinformation aren’t just headlines – they’re a battle for our children’s right to grow up in a world that views them as more than a wallet and a vote.

That’s where libraries come in. Libraries were never just about the books – books were always really a means to an end. The end is to help people be literate, empowered free thinkers who can empathise with the people around them and make informed choices in their daily lives.

That’s what librarians really care about – that everyone, everywhere is empowered to question and to learn, to apply your own critical judgement and to use what you know to go out, get a job, start a business, make a difference and fulfil your potential.

And that’s why this campaign really matters, because if we want to build a better future for Scotland and for future generations, if we want to give every child the very best start in life, we need to start building more libraries.

Nick Poole is Chief Executive of CILIP, the UK library association.


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