A total of 83 public libraries have closed in Scotland since 2009-10, according to a Scottish Government’s response to a parliamentary question submitted by MSP Miles Briggs.
Over the same period, spending on public libraries plummeted by 30 per cent, despite the fact that yearly visitor numbers to libraries increased by over 40 per cent.
By 2019-20, there were just 544 – down from 627 in 2009-10 – public libraries remaining in Scotland to service almost 45 million annual visits.
The figures revealed come after various successful campaigns backed by the The Scotsman’s sister title, Scotland on Sunday, to re-open libraries across Scotland following closures due to the pandemic.
Two weeks ago, protests continued outside Leith Library in the Capital which has been closed and used as a testing centre throughout the pandemic. It has now been earmarked to reopen around April. However, over the past ten years, some libraries have not been as fortunate to have a reopening date and have closed their doors for good following government cuts to library services.
Miles Briggs MSP, Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice said: “The demand for public libraries has grown over the past 10 years, yet successive SNP cuts have led to one in eight of them shutting their doors.
“Years of under-funding and increased ring-fencing from the SNP have eroded the ability of councils to deliver the essential local services their communities really need.
“Libraries are not just a place to borrow books, they are at the heart of local communities, and make a real difference to the daily lives of millions of Scots.
“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."
Funding pressures on public services such as libraries have been exacerbated by ballooning ring-fenced or ‘protected’ funding over recent years, according to COSLA.
By 2019-20 ‘protected’ funding had almost doubled from 2013-14 levels to over 60% of council budgets, leaving ‘unprotected’ services such as libraries and sports facilities taking ‘the largest hit’.
Between 2013/14 and 2019/20 national policy initiatives increased from 34% to 61% of council funding, meaning that cuts could only be applied to the dwindling unprotected portion and causing funding cuts to be amplified in those services.
According to a 2020 COSLA briefing, Invest in Essential Services, “services such as roads, buses, paths, planning, community learning, events, sports facilities, libraries, tourism, business support, environmental health, and trading standards all sit within the unprotected portion of the budget and have taken the largest hit since 2013/14”
There was a reduction of 29.6% in net spending on library services between 2010-11 and 2019-20, according to the Local Government Benchmarking Framework.
Yet, at the same time,visitor numbers increased by 41.1% from 31.8 million to 44.9 million.
Mr Briggs added: “The demand for libraries is there, now we need the funding. If the SNP really want to support our local communities to recover from the pandemic, they must urgently work with councils to reverse this worrying trend and restore Scotland’s public libraries.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "Public library services are the responsibility of local authorities who have a statutory duty to ensure that there is adequate provision for their residents.
“The Scottish Government recognises the crucial role libraries play in our communities and as part of our recovery, and as such we have protected libraries better than any other UK nation, all of which have seen more libraries close than Scotland.
“The 2022-23 Local Government settlement of £12.6bn is both fair and affordable, representing an increase 8.9% in cash terms or 6.1% in real terms compared with 2021-22, despite the pandemic exerting unprecedented pressures on our budget.
“Funding is not the only metric – the Improvement Service’s Local Government Benchmarking Framework Report shows that numbers of library visits have increased by 41% between 2010-11 to 2019-20.
“There is a need, however, to ensure our library sector fully recovers from the pandemic, which is why the Scottish Government has invested £1.25 million in our Public Library COVID Relief Fund - supporting 23 projects around the country to re-connect communities with their libraries.”