Where do political parties stand on the future of Scotland's libraries?

As the 2022 local elections draw ever closer, spokespeople from all five major parties in Scotland lay out their stalls on their vision of the future for and continued maintenance of a precious national asset – our libraries – which plays such an important and varied role in society

Scottish Conservatives

For those people who don’t regularly use libraries, it can be easy to underestimate the huge role they play in the daily lives of millions of Scots – and the huge potential they have to be even more significant.

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Libraries are not just a place to borrow books, they are at the heart of local communities.

Campaigners at the Couper Institute Public Hall and Library in August 2021. Picture: John Devlin/NationalWorld

Free, high-quality public libraries are key to addressing so many of Scotland’s most pressing challenges – from the ever-widening attainment gap, to Scotland’s growing digital skills needs, to our cultural recovery from the pandemic.

However, they are being badly let down by the SNP.

I was shocked when a parliamentary question I submitted last month revealed that, under the SNP, one in eight libraries have permanently shut their doors since 2010.

That’s despite the fact demand for public libraries has grown by almost 40 per cent in the same period.

Years of SNP underfunding and out-of-control Holyrood ring-fencing of certain areas of council budgets have eroded the ability of town halls to deliver other key services their communities really need.

And just this year a £251 million real-terms cut from the SNP government will likely leave councils with more tough choices to make over community facilities like libraries.

The Scottish Conservatives are committed to keeping libraries and other vital public services open – but we must also stand up for fairer funding for local councils, in general, in order to ensure the future of public libraries across Scotland.

The Scottish Conservatives are bringing forward a Bill which would force the Scottish Government to give a fixed proportion of their budget towards local authorities, in order to protect funding for local services.

But we also want to reverse the SNP’s rampant centralisation and see councils given more freedom on how to spend their budgets.

According to COSLA, funding pressures on public services such as libraries have been hugely exacerbated by ballooning ring-fenced or ‘protected’ funding over recent years, leaving ‘unprotected’ services such as libraries taking the largest hit.

Only by empowering local councils once again and reversing SNP power-grab ring-fencing, can we end this damaging trend.

The Scottish Conservatives are the only party that is ready to stand up for local priorities and take action on the issues Scots really care about.

We will restore local library services to ensure all Scots have access to free books, learning and internet facilities. And we will review how we can improve libraries even further to develop community hubs in your local area.

But more than that, we will continue to push the SNP to give councils fair funding and put an end to damaging local government cuts, in order to protect Scotland’s libraries in the years to come.

Miles Briggs, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government

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Scottish Labour

Libraries are at the heart of communities across Scotland, but they are stretched to breaking point after years of cuts under the SNP government.

Over the last decade a shameful £250 million pounds has been stripped away from libraries in Scotland, leaving communities across the country facing immense challenges, devastating cuts, and potential closures.

Once again, the SNP’s hypocrisy can be seen from space.

They talk about prioritising education, while threatening the phenomenal educational work libraries do.

They say closing the attainment gap is their “defining mission”, but they are decimating local libraries which do so much to level the playing field.

The First Minister talks about her love of books - but while libraries in her own back yard are struggling for survival.

Scottish Labour councillors and MSPs have been proud to stand with determined communities campaigning to save local libraries under threat of closure over recent months.

The pandemic cannot be allowed to provide cover for the closure of libraries, and we will continue to fight to see all libraries reopened and restored, so that every part of Scotland can benefit from the huge range of services that libraries deliver.

We cannot underestimate the crucial role libraries can play in building the brighter future we are all hoping for.

They are more important than ever as the cost of living crisis piles pressure on households. Not only do they offer a huge range of resources and opportunities, but they are safe, free spaces for people to spend time without spending money.

They are a vital tool in the fight to close the attainment gap and raise educational standards for all. The next generation has been failed time and time again by the SNP and their mismanagement of our schools, but libraries can be invaluable in promoting literacy, development and equality. This is why Scottish Labour have committed to ensuring every child has access to a library membership, so that reading and learning can be accessible to all.

And while it may be kids who stand to lose the most from these harsh cuts, libraries are for all ages. As more and more of our lives move online, digital exclusion is becoming one of defining challenges of our time. Libraries are key places for reducing digital inequality, improving digital literacy and skills, and ensuring that everyone has access to online services.

To ensure libraries are protected and empowered, Scottish Labour councillors will fight to deliver fair funding for both public and school libraries at a local level - but it is not enough to constantly struggle to paper over the cracks of the SNP government’s ruthless efforts to gut local communities.

Every single Labour councillor will be a true local champion for their community - standing up for their areas and fighting for a fair deal from SNP and Tory central governments.

Scottish Labour Local Government spokesperson Mark Griffin

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Scottish Greens

Greens are frequent library users and absolutely recognise their value. After all, one of the primary guiding principles of the Scottish Green Party is that cultural rights are human rights.

This includes the right to participate in cultural life and access the benefits of books, as well as the recognition that libraries can be important cultural hubs in the heart of a community.

We’ve seen from councils across the country that libraries can be relegated in funding decisions and mischaracterised as a Cinderella service. That has led to over 800 closures, more than one in eight Scottish libraries closed since 2010, which is nothing short of cultural and societal vandalism.

The pandemic compounded that, nowhere more so than in our largest city. Glasgow Life, Glasgow City Council’s arms’ length provider of culture and sport services, had a £30m+ black hole in its finances because cash wasn't coming in from gym memberships and concert tickets. That meant libraries and community centres were forced to stay shut.

Green councillors were the first to raise the alarm on this crisis and we backed the Save Glasgow Libraries campaign, which sprung up to fight for three southside libraries, including in my own Pollokshields ward. It went on to spark local campaigns around the city. For the best part of eighteen months, I joined campaigners in all weathers outside local libraries at read-in protests.

These campaigns were inspiring - and they worked. The Scottish Government was forced to provide one-off funding to get their doors open. Green councillors then secured funding in the Council’s budget to keep them that way.

But they shouldn’t have been under threat in the first place. There’s something seriously wrong when statutory services need either commercial income or charitable grants to simply open their doors.

Electing more Green councillors will support and encourage libraries to increase their purchases – specially to support local authors – as part of a broader aim to ensure everyone has access to enjoy and learn from an increased provision of books, resources and information that libraries can offer.

In Glasgow, Greens will scrap overdue library fines and we will guarantee library funding for the whole of the Council term. We will harness the energy of local campaigns to launch a city-wide conversation on the future of public libraries, so they have a long-lasting future serving the whole community.

We think there is a future for libraries developing as local climate action hubs, providing access to repair skills, tool and toy sharing clubs, recycling advice, or wildflower seed banks - and we’ll work with partners to identify creative opportunities to keep libraries well-used.

And we will also act to secure their future long-term. Greens in Glasgow opposed the outsourcing of library services from the start, and we will consult on options to bring them back into the council, so their funding is properly ring-fenced.

There’s a wide world of knowledge and inspiration out there, but many people need their local libraries to help access it.

Jon Molyneux, Scottish Greens councillor for Pollokshields

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SNP

Everyone should be able to experience the joy of books and reading, and our public libraries are key to ensuring that is the case. Books are a way of providing us with comfort and relaxation - but they help broaden our minds and increase our compassion to others.

But libraries are not just about books - they are community hubs and offer so much to residents. They provide access to IT and learning resources, support children in the early years, help engage older people, and empower our communities. All of this supports our mental health and wellbeing by tackling social isolation, helping to close the digital divide, and reducing the school attainment gap.

The role libraries play in closing the attainment gap cannot be underestimated. We know that a staggering 6 million children’s books are borrowed annually in Scotland’s public libraries. Being able to access these books freely supports better literacy and learning for many who would otherwise not be able to afford it – and that must be protected.

I am proud of the SNP’s work to support public libraries in local communities.

Since 2017, the SNP has invested over £1 million through the School Library Improvement Fund which, in the coming year, will have a particular focus on race equality and anti-racism, aligning with wider national priorities. Our Public Libraries Improvement Fund is also supporting new projects in libraries like robotics workshops, autism-friendly initiatives, and code clubs.

In addition to this, we are determined to help our libraries recover from the past two years. Our libraries played a crucial role in supporting the national response to Covid-19 pandemic and whilst no libraries in Scotland permanently closed in 2020 or 2021, it is important to understand the severe impact the pandemic has had on them.

The Scottish Government’s £1.25 million Public Library Covid Relief Fund is already supporting 30 projects across Scotland to remain open and tackle the attainment gap, and SNP local authorities can help build on this.

Councils are central to creating and supporting libraries that work for the local needs and SNP councils will work with the government in Holyrood to protect and improve access to public and school libraries for their communities. This collaboration across local and national government is key to delivering libraries for everyone, with social equity at their heart.

As we recover from the last two years, and look to build a better future, access to community hubs like libraries can be an important part of that. They play a fundamental role in a successful society.

The SNP will work to make sure everyone has access to libraries in their communities and the many benefits they provide.

Fiona Hyslop MSP

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Scottish Liberal Democrats

Libraries are an important part of, and often the centre of many communities. From helping apply for bus passes, providing free Hey Girls sanitary products and access to books and computers, libraries can offer lifeline services to those who really need it.

Scottish Liberal Democrats will always champion community hubs like libraries and will always do what we can to protect them, despite the cuts in local government funding constantly being handed down by the SNP and Greens.

In my home city of Glasgow, the pandemic meant these services were closed for months on end but when the moment came for them to reopen, the ruling SNP-led administration left many shuttered and closed, with budgets under threat. It was only after fierce local campaigning these closures were averted. Leaving these services hanging by a thread, never more than one budget round away from closure is a terrible way to treat community resources that so many rely on.

Our First Minister may be a famous bookworm but not everyone can afford a home library of their own or trips to prestigious Edinburgh literary festivals. For those people community libraries can be both a lifeline and a ticket into another world.

So how do we help libraries to flourish?

Scottish Liberal Democrats will support libraries to innovate and increase footfall. Orkney Library is a brilliant example of how services embed themselves in their communities. It has 79,000 followers on Twitter alone and everyone in the islands values it and knows how much it offers. It is a local hub and the model can undoubtedly be used across the country.

Libraries can also be the source of inspiration and education for everyone but none more so than school children. Scottish Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for better funding of education at all levels. Children have missed out on so much. The attainment gap is now bigger than ever. Yet parents, teachers and pupils can’t see any difference in what the government is offering. We want to see unprecedented new entitlements for pupils and staff, with extra resources in every school. Libraries will be an important part of that as community hubs, multi-use facilities, places of safety and learning.

At a time when the spread of misinformation is at an all-time high, libraries provide crucial information that can help tackle these fake news stories. It is clear that we must do all we can to invest in and retain libraries so that we can ensure they remain a key part of this fight.

Scottish Liberal Democrat councillors and candidates are local champions. We won’t lose sight of the value that libraries can offer our communities and how people can take advantage of everything they have to offer.

Joe McCauley, culture spokesperson, Scottish Liberal Democrats

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