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Scotland's Libraries: Inspiration for the Nation

'Scotland’s Libraries: Inspiration for the Nation’ is the name of the campaign run by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland ahead of the Scottish Parliamentary elections on May 5th.

The campaign, supported by top Scottish authors, aimed to highlight the key role Scotland’s libraries play in helping to achieve policy goals from improving health and wellbeing to raising attainment and promoting and preserving the culture of our nation and called for government action to maintain investment.

The campaign covered issues relating to all types of libraries across Scotland that our members work in.

The Campaign asked candidates standing for election to the Scottish Parliament on May 5th: 

 1. To support and call for the full implementation of the National Strategy for Public Libraries in Scotland, agreed last year with the Scottish Government and COSLA including

- Taking forward a national reading strategy with libraries at its heart
- Rolling out and sustaining the every child a library member project
- Providing high-speed wifi in all community libraries 
- Rolling out a national digital skills programme with shared resources
- Developing local, regional and national partnerships to support employability


2. To work to ensure that all learners in school and further education have on site access to full time professional library staff.


3. To support development of a new national strategy for school libraries which recognises their vital role in supporting pupils’ literacy and research skills.


4. To work closely with Local Government to ensure that all libraries are fully supported.


Key Messages included:

  • Scotland’s Libraries are a diverse network across all sectors and play a key role as economic enablers and learning and social hubs; they help to realise policy goals from reducing the attainment gap and improving literacy levels to promoting culture and creativity;
  • Scotland’s Public Libraries offer excellent value with a £166 annual return on investment per user, at a cost of £21 per head of population;
  • Scotland’s Public Libraries are popular and valued by users – their dedicated staff have seen visitor numbers increase by 28.6% over the past 5 years;
  • All learners in school and further education should have access to full time professional librarian expertise as this contributes to improved academic attainment, successful delivery of curriculum outcomes and promotion of literacy and reading;
  • All 19 of Scotland’s university libraries, through a collaborative agreement by SCURL, procure over 40 thousand ebooks and 4 thousand journals to an annual investment exceeding £8m providing equitable access to the content to support their learners and users;
  • Scotland's Libraries are a valuable resource in the drive to full digital inclusion.

Key Activities included:

  • A series of guest blogs featuring contributions from prominent campaigners, national organisations and more;
  • Changes to services - as local authorities (and charitable trusts) announce their budgets and plans we monitored these and responding where possible;
  • We produced guide to engaging candidates  our members can use in their local area;
  • Links to how the Scottish media are covering libraries;
  • We produced our own Manifesto with political parties being invited to outline how their policies, if they were elected, would recognise the contribution of libraries in terms of investment and support; and
  • HolyroodAye! - our election watch strand of the campaign where we will be contacting parties and asking them to respond to our Manifesto;

The campaign was supported by Scottish authors including CILIPS President Theresa Breslin, Christopher Brookmyre, Val McDermid and our Conference keynote speaker James Robertson.

Award winning author Theresa Breslin:

"I wholeheartedly support this Campaign on behalf of Scottish Libraries. 

In this digital age and in the present economic climate libraries and librarians are absolutely crucial. The Internet is in itself a vast library, but it is an unregulated one. One of the key roles of libraries is to provide access for everyone to any information they may require and ensure that professional staff are available to share skills in locating and evaluating that information. The provision of literature for self-advancement or for pleasure promotes literacy, cultural awareness, and social and emotional competence. In addition to this, libraries are vibrant spaces hosting a wide-range of activities. The library is the beating heart of a community.

The benefit of libraries to young people is staggeringly enormous. To raise attainment and aspiration our youth need a wide variety of books with trained staff to guide their choices and promote reading initiatives. This is fundamental to developing children’s reading habits. Literature based cultural events are often organised by librarians. Our country cannot afford to lose these book groups, poetry slams, story times, author visits etc. In particular school libraries provide a unique access for young people to Scotland’s national literature and that of the wider world. Removing library access from a child’s life will do incalculable damage.

Cuts to book budgets, library opening hours, mobile services, branches, and the drastic and unnecessary deletion of professional posts strike at those most in need of a library service and those least able to protest against the cuts in that service - the less affluent, the elderly, the frail, asylum seekers, people who are challenged mentally and physically and their carers, those who look after babies and toddlers and, crucially, our children - who are our future."

Literature Alliance Scotland, the collective voice for literature and languages in Scotland, said, "we firmly believes that libraries and librarians offer the most democratic means of providing citizens with access to knowledge, and that one of libraries’ most essential roles is acting as the nexus between writers and the public, placing literature at the heart of every community, accessible to every citizen.  Publishers perform an essential role in this process. Literature Alliance Scotland strongly wishes to see Scottish books in all of Scotland’s languages acquired consistently by public and school libraries across the country, so that people have access to the best of their national literature at all stages of life. We believe that this is an opportune time for a fresh consideration of how this can be accomplished because of the coincidence of the recent Creative Scotland literature review, the recent national strategy for public libraries in Scotland and the development of, for example, Scottish Studies within the national Curriculum for Excellence.’

Prominent Scottish poet, editor, novelist and publisher, James Robertson:

"Libraries are not just warehouses full of books. They never have been. Libraries also contain librarians, who are some of the most professional, knowledgeable, helpful and friendly people I have every worked with. A library without librarians is like a school without teachers or a hospital without doctors and nurses: don’t let anybody tell you that replacing trained professionals with volunteers, however well-meaning and dedicated they might be, is a good or sustainable idea. When a library closes, staff are either relocated or they lose their jobs, and this means a permanent loss of expertise.

When I was growing up, a library opened in our village. It was considered necessary, because the nearest library was three miles away. The library rapidly became a hub, to use that modern term, of the community, in the same way that the post office and the health centre were hubs. When you close a post office, it doesn’t get re-opened. When you close a post office or a library, part of the community is destroyed.

But this isn’t just about nostalgia. I totally understand that councils are under immense pressure to make savings and balance budgets, and I also recognise that society has changed and will continue to change, and that we access books and information and knowledge and recreation and all the other things a library provides in different ways. So of course library services must adapt in order to serve their communities appropriately for the 21st century. Nobody would dispute that, and indeed when you look at what some local authorities have done to enhance their library services you can see that happening in many different and positive ways. But when you reduce the number of libraries in already disadvantaged communities, or communities at a distance from the next nearest library, the impact isn’t positive, it is negative. Libraries are used disproportionately more by the following groups: the elderly, the very young, people on low incomes, unemployed people, people without their own transport. Library closures hit the most vulnerable in our society first and hardest.

The existence of public libraries is a mark of a civilised, fair and open-minded society which genuinely wants to see equality of opportunities for all its members. Scotland is, and always should aspire to be, that kind of society."

Scottish crime writer Christopher Brookmyre:

"Libraries are like churches in the religion of learning.  It's not merely about the books on the shelf: it's about places that nurture a love for literature."

Celebrated and bestselling author Val McDermid:

"I wouldn't be a writer if not for the public library system - I simply wouldn't have had access to the myriad worlds of books otherwise. But it's not just the next generation of writers who need libraries. They are multi-purpose spaces that fulfil a broad range of needs for a wide spectrum of society. They are repositories of possibilities for all of us."

For more information on the campaign please e mail

National Librarian, John Scally, said:

"Libraries have long provided the key that has unlocked the route to learning, understanding and enjoyment for countless numbers of Scots. Their role is as important in today’s digital age as it ever has been. Free and easy access to information can improve life chances and help people from all backgrounds make the most of their potential."

Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, Tam Baillie

“Scotland’s libraries help to uphold children’s right to an education by providing free, wide-ranging and pertinent resources without discrimination. Additionally, for many children, their school library is a safe place to learn and to receive guidance from dedicated professionals. Reducing library services impacts too heavily on the poorest communities, and fails to recognise the way libraries provide access to technology, advice and information in a supportive environment to everyone who needs or wants it.”