Scottish library closures soar as council cuts bite

Award-winning children's author Julia Donaldson. Picture: Contributed
Award-winning children's author Julia Donaldson. Picture: Contributed
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Dozens of libraries across Scotland have been closed in the past 12 months – and the figure has doubled in the space of a year.

There are now fears they are seen as a “soft touch” for councils looking to make cuts in a climate of falling budgets, leaving many communities frozen out of the services libraries provide.

The former Scots-based Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson has hit out at the scale of the closures, saying libraries are vital as “community centres”.

A total of 30 libraries closed in Scotland last year, up from 15 the year before, according to figures provided by the Scottish Library and Information Council. The closures had remained in single figures for most of the previous decade.

A high-profile campaign was launched last year with the support of leading Scottish authors aimed at sparing libraries from the likely impact of cuts after Scots councils saw hundreds of millions of pounds axed from their budgets in recent years.

Library staff representatives in Scotland insist they still offer a wide range of services, while voicing concerns over the impact on communities over any closures.

“We recognise that recent years have seen huge local authority budgetary,” said a spokesman for the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland (Cilips). “The fact that the number of people using libraries has increased in the same period highlights their popularity, the changing ways people access services and the vital contribution they make to community cohesion, social and economic wellbeing, digital skills, literacy and more.

“We urge local authorities to think very carefully and consult residents fully before closing any libraries.”

Many of the library closures took place in Fife after swingeing plans were unveiled by the council to axe 16 sites as part of a cost-cutting measures. Abbeyview, Bowhill, Colinsburgh, Crail and Crossgates were among the towns in the region to lose their libraries. However, the redevelopment of services in Fife has also included a £4 million redevelopment of the Carnegie Library in Dunfermline.

In Scotland, there were 3,515 paid library jobs in 2010 and 3,416 in 2015 – a drop of 99 (3 per cent), a BBC report found.

Award-winning children’s author Donaldson said: “Libraries are about free books, but they’re so much more than that – they are community centres. There are reading groups, writing groups, author visits, summer reading challenges, rhyme times and storytelling.

“Libraries produce more literate kids, which is vital for the future of society. When half the prison population is illiterate it doesn’t make sense to be destroying the best literary resource we have. Surely we need libraries more than ever, both for the free books and as warm, welcoming places in which it doesn’t matter where you’re from or how rich or poor you are.”

Almost £750m has been axed from budgets for frontline services, with libraries feeling the cuts along with schools, social care and rubbish collection and disposal.

Pamela Tulloch, chief executive of the Scottish Library and Information Council, said the way people use their local library has changed and models of service delivery are “changing to reflect that”.

The organisation also said there had been new investment in library services in recent years. New or refurbished libraries have been opened in Wick, Grantown, Alford, Denny and Loanhead last year, plus Newbattle and Strathaven, and Renfrewshire is investing £5m in a new central library in Paisley. East Ayrshire has recently invested in a new mobile library fleet.

A spokesman for local government body Cosla said that decisions on library closures were an operational matter for individual councils based on local need and circumstance.

He added: “The backdrop of cuts to council budgets certainly doesn’t help matters.”

A campaign entitled Library Matters was launched last year by Cilips opposing more closures. It won the support of leading Scots authors, including Irvine Welsh and Graeme Macrae Burnet.

Burnet said at the time: “At a time when we are concerned about literacy, education and inclusiveness, we should be championing the crucial role libraries play in our communities.”