Support our Libraries: Glasgow cancer survivor says libraries offered an important lifeline

A cancer survivor has made an impassioned plea for Scottish Government Ministers to see libraries as more than just places for borrowing books, as the future of more than 60 centres across Scotland hangs in the balance.

Colin McGeoch, from Whiteinch in Glasgow, told Scotland on Sunday his recovery from rare solitary plasmacytoma and Poems syndrome was “helped massively” by Macmillan volunteers who he met at his local library.

‘Somewhere that is a quiet space’

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“People with cancer often can't talk or don’t want to talk to family members about it because they don't want to bother them,” he explained.

“But in a library, you go and it’s quiet space, you can talk to someone who's been through it.

“Macmillan encourages you to get help with benefits and offers other advice too.

The 54-year-old community councillor, who now volunteers for the charity, said aggressive treatments for cancer can leave patients’ brain “in a mush”.

“Filling in forms and paying bills can actually become really difficult and really stressful because you’re so exhausted.

Colin McGeoch, from Whiteinch in Glasgow, told Scotland on Sunday that his recovery from rare solitary plasmacytoma and Poems syndrome was “helped massively” by Macmillan volunteers who he met at his local library. SAVE OUR LIBRARIES PROTEST AT THE SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT

“A local library is a place someone can go to get those things sorted - GPs just don’t have time,” he added.

“It's good for your mental health to be able to do that physically, to get out and go somewhere that is a quiet space and get help.”

‘A lot of people will have felt very alone’

Gordon McLean, of Macmillan Cancer Support, told Scotland on Sunday that it was important for the charity’s volunteers to be seen “in the heart of communities”.

At a rally on Thursday outside the Scottish Parliament organised by Glasgow Against Closures, Colin said the failure to reopen libraries was “ridiculous”, and complained of a “lack of accountability” in the decision-making process. SAVE OUR LIBRARIES PROTEST AT THE SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT

“It’s thanks to the hard work of our staff and partners, that many of our information and support hubs across libraries are restarting and we’re able to support people face-to-face again,” he explained.

“Cancer is tough, and a lot of people will have felt very alone with their illness throughout the pandemic, unable to see friends and family.

“We want them to know we are here for them - if they need to talk to someone or need information about cancer, we’re here to give emotional, practical and financial support.

“People can access Macmillan over the phone but it’s also important for us to be seen and being in the heart of communities within libraries and hospitals is part of that - even if it’s to put the kettle on and listen.”

Across Scotland more broadly, 61 of the country’s 481 public libraries have remained shut since the start of the first lockdown. SAVE OUR LIBRARIES PROTEST AT THE SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT

‘Lack of accountability’

Despite the lifting of most Covid-19 restrictions in Scotland, Glasgow Life, which delivers cultural and leisure services on behalf of Glasgow City Council, has no plans to reopen five of the 33 libraries under its control - including Colin’s local in Whiteinch.

The charity said the pandemic had “forced significant changes to how Glasgow Life operates”.

Across Scotland more broadly, 61 of the country’s 481 public libraries have remained shut since the start of the first lockdown.

At a rally on Thursday outside the Scottish Parliament, organised by Glasgow Against Closures, Colin said the failure to reopen libraries was “ridiculous”, and complained of a “lack of accountability” in the decision-making process.

“The people of Glasgow are angry at the complete disregard for the communities in crisis.

“Politicians should take note,” Colin added, “our campaigns will not go away, but will continue through the winter until next year’s council elections - when the people will decide who is best to manage our cultural services and venues.”

‘The dosh has to come from somewhere’

At the protest, actor David Anderson, a resident of Maryhill, said it was “shameful” that people were being kept out of publicly-owned buildings.

The 76-year-old, known for his roles in Gregory’s Girl and The Steamie, told Scotland on Sunday he had regularly taken his granddaughter to Maryhill Library before it closed.

“It’s not just libraries that are closing, it’s health centres, preschool centres and museums - the Gallery of Modern Art - for goodness’ sake.

“Something has been done about this - the dosh has to come from somewhere.”

Fellow campaigner Jim Monaghan said libraries, museums and sports venues were not “extras or add-ons”.

“These are essential services that are every bit as important as social work, as education, as health - and the thing is that without them, all those other things become more difficult to do.

“The revenue that Glasow Life lost during the pandemic is at most about £40 million, which is a very, very small amount of money in reality.

“We can find that £40 million quite easily,” argued Jim, who pointed to the hundreds of millions of pounds in the Scottish Government budget that remain officially unallocated.

‘Simply unforgivable’

Addressing the protesters briefly on Thursday, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar called the continued closure of libraries “simply unforgivable”.

“On an almost weekly basis we have a First Minister who tweets about what books she’s reading, while not letting children in Glasgow get access to the books that they want to read.

“[Ministers] can’t pretend that this is not connected to the year-on-year cuts that have been delivered from this Parliament to local authorities across the country.”

Later, at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon insisted that “the vast, vast majority of libraries” in Glasgow had reopened since the start of the pandemic, and “where the small number of libraries are not open, there are reasons for that that I know the Council has set out.”

She said the Scottish Government had already provided £1.25 million in further financial support for councils “to get and keep libraries open, given very strong recognition of the importance of liabilities in communities.”

Ms Sturgeon added that Ministers will be “as fair to local government as we possibly can be” in upcoming discussions with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) ahead of the budget announcement in early December.

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