CILIPS Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland
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#LibrariesAreEssential to Scottish Society

#LibrariesAreEssential Scotland's Stories 'Society' logo, with white text on a blue library background

  •  Forward: Scotland’s Public Library Strategy 2021-2025 clearly marks the direction of travel for Scotland’s public libraries, building on strong foundations and the collective desire for a vibrant, sustainable future for Scotland’s public library network. The strategy aligns with the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework and is rooted in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals making a commitment to a greener and more responsible future. ‘Scotland has a proud history of public libraries dating back to the 1850s,’ noted Pamela Tulloch, CEO of the Scottish Library & Information Council (SLIC) when the strategy launched, ‘and it’s a testament to their evolution that they continue to resonate with the public today… Libraries help to reduce the attainment gap, improve mental health and wellbeing, bridge the digital divide, tackle social isolation, reduce inequalities and promote economic wellbeing amongst many other things. With a network of around 500 public libraries in Scotland, they play an essential part to empower communities to thrive.’ Learn more and read the full strategy here.
  • ‘We have chosen to champion Scotland’s libraries, to highlight their work, tell their stories and push for their futures.’ Editor Catherine Salmond and her team at Scotland on Sunday have led an inspiring and impassioned Support Our Libraries campaign since August 2021, emphasising for readers across Scotland and beyond why #LibrariesAreEssential to our story now more than ever. There are many amazing articles to consult (including this one, our personal favourite featuring Head of CILIPS Sean McNamara)!
  • ‘We didn’t have many books in the house when I was wee but we went to the library every other week. Language, books, libraries, worlds! There were excitements, adventures, story-books you could lose yourself in, away from everything, and then give back – and free, for everyone. What an extraordinary invention is a library.’ Scotland’s Makar Kathleen Jamie knows why #LibrariesAreEssential. Do you?
  • ‘People have missed physical libraries while they have been closed during lockdowns. They are stress-free, calming places where people can go to relax, borrow books or study. They are also social spaces at the heart of communities, where people can take their children. They host events and even, in some cases, have acted as Covid-19 vaccination centres.’ Extensive research undertaken by Dr David McMenemy, Dr Elaine Robinson and Professor Ian Ruthven reveals that the public see digital services as ‘no substitute’ for physical library spaces, with the latter offering an essential, indispensable source of community and connection.
  • ‘Library closures shone a light on the extent of digital exclusion’ in Scotland, reinforces the 2022 Audit Scotland ‘Local Government in Scotland: Overview’ report (p37). ‘While the digital offer will shape the future of library services,’ the report observes, ‘research shows the buildings are vital as safe, accessible, free, trusted and communal spaces in communities’. Indeed, the last decade has seen a 42% growth in library visit numbers.
  • ‘It’s amazing the things that I’ve learnt through the library. Honestly, I used to walk through the door in the library and when I walked back out the door I felt as if I was walking on air. That’s what the library means to me.’ The Transformative Space of the Library is a unique, must-read report by Dr Holly Porteous, Dr Juliette Wilson and Professor Kathy Hamilton from the University of Strathclyde that uses the case study of Glasgow Women’s Library to offer a powerful and poignant illustration of why #LibrariesAreEssential in Scotland now more than ever. Read the report in full.
  • ‘Reading is Scotland’s favourite cultural activity, which has proven health benefits as evidenced by a Scottish Government study. At their local library, residents of all ages can freely access literature, including ebooks, audiobooks and newspapers, and we know that reading for pleasure boosts young people’s life chances and helps to improve literacy…’ Ali Bowden, Director of Edinburgh City of Literature Trust, articulates the evidence of why #LibrariesAreEssential to Scottish society now more than ever. Read on here.
  • ‘By lessening loneliness, tackling social isolation and improving mental health, libraries increase wellbeing by creating a sense of community, as well as enhancing confidence, self-esteem and the ability to self-manage health conditions…’ we were honoured to get the chance to share this blog with Alliance Scotland, highlighting all the ways in which #LibrariesAreEssential to health and wellbeing.
  • ‘Kindness is at the heart of our wellbeing. We know that the relationships we have and the connections we make with those around us are fundamental to improving outcomes for people and communities, and this has only become more evident over the last 18 months. We also know that libraries, positioned at the heart of their communities, are well placed to actively encourage and facilitate opportunities for kindness – indeed, most already do so without even realising it.’ Read Carnegie UK Trust’s Creating Space for Kindness 2021 report to discover why Scotland’s #LibrariesAreEssential to cultivating kindness in our communities.
  • ‘Like other libraries, it brings people together and creates a safe space for learning, without hierarchies of knowledge…’ Co-founded in 2012 by Professor Dee Heddon (University of Glasgow) and Dr Misha Myers (Deakin University), The Walking Library ‘stands as testimony and homage to our love of books and the libraries that send those books out into the world, free of charge.’ Learn more about why #LibrariesAreEssential to all walks of life.
  • ‘More than repositories of books, libraries are community centres and inspiration hubs. They are essential to our lives, perhaps now more than ever.’ Heather Parry, award-winning writer and Society of Authors in Scotland Senior Policy and Liaison Manager, captures why #LibrariesAreEssential to readers and writers alike. Read the full quote here.
  • ‘When people are in CBT, they are people with pain. When they’re in the reading group, they’re people with lives…’ whether living with chronic pain, dementia or childhood conditions that require hospitalisation, the positive health effects of reading are often just what the doctor ordered. Read this Scottish Book Trust twitter thread for highlights and links that vividly illustrate the power of reading, books and libraries to enhance health outcomes.
  • ‘For many children in our community, the library is a second home. The staff and I want them and the rest of the community to flourish.’ Muirhouse Library Holiday Breakfast Club provides physical and psychological nourishment for vulnerable young people. Click here to read the case study.
  • ‘It is no overstatement to say I wouldn’t be alive today without having access to libraries as a child and young woman who grew up in extreme poverty. Mine is only one of thousands of similar stories of the vital importance of well-funded, well-facilitated libraries…’ award-winning author and #CILIPS21 Keynote Speaker Kerry Hudson shares a powerful and personal insight into the essential importance of libraries in her life. Click here to read on or learn more about how Kerry’s passionate and persuasive address to our delegates hit the headlines.
  • Growing up in poverty is described by the Being Bold March 2021 report (commissioned by Children in Scotland, Cattanach and the Carnegie UK Trust) as the ‘single biggest human rights issue facing children in Scotland’ (p14), and libraries can provide an essential antidote to some of the most detrimental effects of poverty on education, wellbeing and self-esteem. The report calls for ‘an upstream-focused budget… moving away from early intervention to early investment’ (p61) and we believe that strong funding for libraries to support the vital work they do with families should be an essential component of this.
  • After several years of reductions, there was a real terms increase in Scottish Government funding for local authorities  2019/20, with around 40% of that increase intended for early learning and childcare provision (p3). From birth (and even before), Scottish libraries are essential to child development through the diverse opportunities they provide: read our blog on the vital value of public libraries for an introduction to the many ways in which libraries support our smallest citizens as they grow.
  • Did you know that reading for just six minutes a day can decrease stress levels by up to 68%? It’s just one reason amongst many why we’ll be supporting #KeepTheHeid and Read, a nationwide reading moment on 11th May 2022…
  • Supporting the Connecting Scotland project, which aimed to get 50,000 digitally excluded Scottish households online by the end of 2021, Elgin Library Learning Centre distributed iPads and Chromebooks to local families at risk of digital isolation. One of the families they helped included a young woman hoping to study medicine, and many other children and young people who would be at risk of falling behind in their studies were it not for the library both delivering the devices and offering training in how to use them. Click here to read the case study.
  • In 2019, 10% of people in Scotland did not have access to the internet at home, making the free Wi-fi that is available in Scotland’s public libraries even more essential. A 2020 Netloan Survey found that 80% of libraries rated their People’s Network of public computers as ‘essential’ to jobseeking (a further 20% modestly said that they were ‘important’!) Libraries were also highlighted in the survey as essential to post-pandemic economic recovery through ‘improving users’ digital skills and providing local businesses and startups with vital information and resources’. Interestingly, according to Realising Scotland’s Full Potential in a Digital World: A Digital Strategy for Scotland, Scotland now enjoys the highest level of ‘basic digital skills’ amongst the four UK nations (p8).
  • Nevertheless, according to the 2021 Nesta ‘Data Poverty in Scotland and Wales’ report, nearly a million adults in Scotland and Wales ‘struggle to afford sufficient, private and secure access to the internet’ (p3), making the access that libraries provide and the digital skills training they offer all the more essential. The report defined data poverty as ‘those individuals, households or communities who cannot afford sufficient, private and secure mobile or broadband data to meet their essential needs’ (p5) and highlighted that about 40% of adults in data poverty also live with children (p6). The report recognised Covid-19’s devastating impact on ‘reliable access to free Wi-Fi in libraries’ as buildings had to close to the public (p13), further evidence reminding decision-makers of how essential is it to restore libraries in Scotland to their pre-pandemic service levels.
  • Skilled staff and digital expertise meant that libraries adapted fast to the challenging circumstances created by the global pandemic – internationally, 3/4 of libraries introduced new digital services in response to the crisis.
  • ‘In the past year as a team we have overcome all the challenges of working remotely and transformed the service we provide… we have adapted and diversified our skills as a team to meet the ever changing needs of the students, moving onto digital platforms and working closely with teaching staff to provide academic workshops and relevant study materials.’ The Learning Resource Team at Forth Valley College adapted quickly to the conditions created by the pandemic, continuing to provide essential support for students and staff, and even finding time for Christmas crafts with a local primary school! Click here to read the case study.
  • Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the world wide web, wrote in his annual letter to mark the anniversary of his invention that while the internet ‘has proved a lifeline [during the pandemic] that allows us to adapt and carry on’, a ‘shocking number of kids in the UK’ are at risk of being left behind. He also raised concerns about the spread of misinformation online and the dangers it poses – click here to read more about why #LibrariesAreEssential to tackling misinformation.
  • If Not Now, When? The Social Renewal Advisory Board report in January 2021 included a Call to Action asking the Scottish Government ‘to end digital exclusion in the next parliamentary term’ and urged them to consider making it a duty of public bodies to actively promote digital access, especially for those who may struggle with new forms of technology like older people or people with a learning disability. Scottish libraries are leading the way with advancing digital inclusion: see our full collection of case studies for some of the strongest examples we’ve encountered so far.
  • ‘Through the Covid-19 crisis,’ noted the If Not Now, When? report, ‘we have seen how crucial money advice services – including education and advice around welfare rights, income maximisation, employment and housing rights – and community spaces such as libraries, and particularly those that offer digital access, have been. This should be reflected in what we define as statutory and essential services and what we ensure is funded to stay open through existing restrictions and beyond.’
  • East Renfrewshire Libraries tackle social isolation and digital exclusion in their community through Virtually Together – running a mixture of library and community-based events in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support, HSCP, Mearnskirk Helping Hands and Barrhead Housing Association to let participants experience virtual reality for the first time. Click here to read the case study.
  • ‘There are 49 mobile libraries in Scotland, operated by 22 public library services, including Orkney, the Western Isles, Highlands and Islands, Edinburgh and Scottish Borders. Combined, the 49 mobiles operate across a network of 3,000 stops, serving almost 37,000 active mobile library users.’ Scottish Library & Information Council CEO Pamela Tulloch shared this insightful blog with us on 17th November 2021, Mobile Libraries Day, highlighting the essential contribution that these ‘roving hubs’ make to communities: encouraging connection, tackling isolation and sharing the profound power of reading across every area of Scotland.
  • ‘Libraries change lives. They’re the beating heart of local communities and make a profound impact on our lives. They provide the answer to social isolation and loneliness, health and wellbeing, digital exclusion, literature, literacy, education, reading and economic recovery.’  Wise words from Peggy Hughes, former Chair of Literature Alliance Scotland and Executive Director of The National Centre for Writing, on the essential role of libraries in Scottish society. Click here to read on…
  • Libraries are supported by the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland – when asked whether the Scottish Government should ‘financially invest in national community libraries’, 35.92% of the assembly strongly agreed and a further 38.83% agreed. The Assembly also supported the creation of an ‘online library to house all Scottish Government information for the public domain, which is easy to search and accessible for all’, emphasising that digital literacy and accessibility – key goals of libraries across Scotland – should be priorities for our nation as it moves towards a brighter future post-pandemic.
  • Stockbridge Library’s Audio Book Group helps members of the library community who have visual impairments share their love of reading with like-minded others, and the group even managed to continue online throughout lockdown. Click here to read the case study.
  • HM Prison Library in Edinburgh welcomed author Matt Wesolowski for a special event as part of the 2019 Edinburgh Book Festival, answering questions from keen readers and aspiring writers in prison. 80% of participants said they would be more likely read or re-read a book, share a book or recommend a book to family and friends; 100% said they would be more likely to try something new or achieve a goal after the visit. Click here to read the case study.
  • ‘Libraries are beacons of light, illuminating communities and individuals through all that they freely offer by way of books, information, learning, entertainment and enlightenment… Without libraries, there is little hope of creating a better and more equal society.’ Marc Lambert, CEO of Scottish Book Trust, tells us why libraries are essential to Scotland’s story. Click here to read on…
  • Reading Friends, a programme delivered by the Reading Agency along with the Scottish Book Trust, uses libraries as spaces to hold reading groups that seek to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness in older people. A review of the programme’s year one pilot with Stirling Libraries found 88% of participants felt that meeting others in the library had ‘added purpose’ to their week (p39).
  • The April 2020 Health on the Shelf Report summarized the variety of ways in which Scottish libraries make an essential contribution to the health and wellbeing of their communities. This includes the ‘provision of health-related information in a range of formats, signposting… [and] providing health-related activities, services and groups based at the library’ but also ‘helping people with their (digital) health information literacy skills so that they have the confidence to find appropriate information for themselves’. The report noted that all this takes place ‘within a trusted and welcoming community space with friendly knowledgeable staff’ – highlighting the essential nature of libraries themselves (and the trained staff who run them) in delivering these positive outcomes for citizens.
  • ‘Libraries have been essential to my well-being both as an adult and as a child,’ notes Maisie Chan, author and founder of the Glasgow Children’s Writers Group. ‘It was a trusted place I could go to find out information about my local area when I moved to a new city. It’s also been a place to expand my knowledge by reading and I’ve instilled that love of reading in my children. If you want to improve the educational literacy of a nation then you have to support libraries.’
  • According to the Scottish Government’s A Connected Scotland report in 2018, 11% of adults in Scotland often feel lonely (Mental Health Foundation 2010) and pre-Covid-19 lockdown, 6% had contact with family, friends or neighbours less than once or twice a week (Scottish Health Survey 2013/15 data combined). The report specifically ‘recognise[d] the importance of libraries’ as ‘community hubs’ that can help to combat social isolation, and it noted that cultural centres in Scotland offer people the ‘opportunity to come together… and connect through shared interests… promoting societal cohesion and aiding integration’. They cited Hillhead Community Library as a strong example of where work being done by our sector is lessening social isolation, with staff noting that ‘some people have nobody else to talk to, so they come in here, which is nice… they feel comfortable enough to come in and chat’.
  • Carnegie UK’s Making a Difference report, published in October 2020, found an astonishing nine million people agreed that the essential work done by library staff from March-June during the pandemic ‘helped them to feel less alone’. From the time when the pandemic began to the report’s publication, library staff had proactively contacted some 2.9 million people, with 130,00 phone calls made by 130 library services across England, Northern Ireland and Wales alone. 64% of those who had experience of this service during lockdown said that their library had improved their wellbeing and 63% felt more connected to their community as a result of library support.
  • The essential value of libraries in combatting loneliness and isolation was reinforced by December 2020 research conducted on behalf of Manchester Libraries, with 80% of people who said that they often or sometimes experience loneliness indicating that their library helped them to feel less so. ‘I am on maternity leave on reduced income,’ described one respondent, ‘and the library is somewhere free, warm and dry to visit. The staff are friendly. I have borrowed books for both leisure, i.e. novels, and for learning about parenting.’ For another contributor, ‘the library helps me get back into a social area and gain the courage to talk to people. It supports my mental wellness and my ability to deal with situations.’
  • ‘The humanity and quiet acceptance of each person’s situation is profound and worth documenting.’ Hamilton Town House Library’s Reminiscence Club fosters connection and compassion for its members as they come together for fun, informal reflection on South Lanarkshire days gone by. A particular highlight is the Christmas Lunch – so much so that planning for it actually begins in August! Click here to read the case study.
  • Research is increasingly indicating the importance of kindness – to ourselves, to others and within our communities – when it comes to good mental wellbeing. The Carnegie UK Trust’s 2017 report The Place of Kindness noted when discussing what contributes to kinder communities that key factors include ‘places free to use, warm hospitality, places free from agenda’ and it is ‘people’ who ultimately make places meaningful (p3). The report also noted the significance of so-called ‘third places’ like libraries – neither home nor work, these spaces ‘provide a hub for regular interactions’, which are themselves integral to people feeling connected and supported in their lives (p12).
  • The report went on to give specific recognition for Glasgow Women’s Library, where ‘everyone is offered tea or coffee from enormous pots and in good china when they arrive. At the event we attended there, people brought and shared their lunch and stories,’ (p17) just one of many examples reflecting the essential warm welcome that libraries offer their users.
  • North Ayrshire libraries went out of their way to spread a little kindness as part of the two-year ‘Kindness in North Ayrshire’ partnership. One of their imaginative ideas was running ‘library sleepovers’ to ‘change the feel of the place and give people permission to connect in a different way’! (p7).
  • University of Glasgow Library also kept up with its contributions to kindness. Working in partnership with the University’s Student Representative Council, library staff introduced a ‘kindness wall’, a family study room and a community fridge as part of what The Practice of Kindness Report called ‘a broader culture shift to make the library a more comfortable, informal space that encouraged interaction between staff and students’ (p14). The report praised the library for being able to ‘create welcoming, inclusive spaces through very low-level changes and by prioritising kindness and relationships’ (p23).
  • The Covid-19 global pandemic has highlighted more than ever how essential it is for all citizens to have the opportunity to access accurate, easy-to-understand health information, and the Scottish Government’s Making it easier: a health literacy action plan 2017-2025 notes that there is ‘an appetite’ for librarians to play ‘a more active role in linking people to useful sources of health and care information’. It highlights that public libraries provide a ‘non-judgemental public space, open to all’ and cites Macmillan Cancer Support services in Scottish libraries as an ‘ambitious and innovative service design’ that can ‘improve people’s quality of life by ensuring they receive easy access to understandable information and support at the right time, regardless of where they are on their cancer journey or where they live’.
  • Through their efficient and effective Literature Search service, which involves conducting a search of databases and other resources, as well as regular Current Awareness Bulletins, Scotland’s health librarians use their information literacy and retrieval skills to save busy health and social care workers time, connecting them with relevant, high quality materials and sources. They also offer group and one-to-one training for healthcare professionals in how to conduct their own literature searches, develop search strategies and assess the quality of their sources. Read this brilliant blog by health librarian Elizabeth Carney for more information about why Health #LibrariesAreEssential in Scotland now more than ever.
  • Health Librarians in Scotland were also essential to the creation of The Health Literacy Place – a straightforward, accessible collection of online resources to give citizens confidence and skills in finding the healthcare information they need. Legally, The Patient Rights (Scotland) Act 2011 states that people ‘should be communicated with in a way that they can understand and that healthcare staff should make sure the patient has understood the information given’. Health librarians continue to be essential in empowering Scottish patients and allowing the NHS to meet this responsibility.
  • ‘Librarians are ideally placed to raise awareness of the impact of low health literacy & to work with health professionals to embed the use of tools & techniques to improve health literacy into their practice…’ this must-read 2021 article from the Health Information and Libraries Journal is filled with case studies that highlight how #HealthLibrariansAddValue.
  • The 2021 Nesta ‘Data Poverty in Scotland and Wales’ report found that 18% of people in Scotland who have a disability or long-term health condition live in data poverty (defined as ‘being unable to afford sufficient, private and secure mobile or broadband data to meet their essential needs’). Such evidence highlights how essential it is for libraries to not only tackle the digital divide through enhancing accessibility and digital literacy, but also to provide safe, public spaces where people can access the online health information they need.
  • One way that many Scottish libraries contribute to their communities’ health and wellbeing is through the free provision of hearing aid batteries, saving many people with hearing impairments from having to attend inaccessible clinics or purchase batteries privately. 19,343 packs of batteries were issued by Midlothian Libraries alone between 2018 and 2019 (p17).
  • As part of their safe reopening after lockdown, Live Life Aberdeenshire Libraries began by offering both Click & Collect and Doorstop deliveries of books, photocopying, hearing aid batteries, food waste caddy bags and battery recycling bags – all bookable by phone, online or via Live Chat with library staff.
  • Fife Libraries, supported by the Carnegie UK Trust ‘Engaging Libraries’ project, facilitated a series of Pause Not Full Stop events, breaking down barriers and ensuring that women can access accurate information about the menopause. Just one example of the many creative events that have taken place is Baking and Banter – a collection of fun, friendly online workshops where participants learned to make bread rolls, oatcakes and more whilst in a safe, supportive space to chat about their experiences of menopause.
  • With the assistance of library staff, Scots comic Janey Godley also supported Pause Not Full Stop by hosting an online comedy night! As Sarah Davidson, CEO of the Carnegie UK Trust has noted, ‘libraries have a unique position as trusted, safe spaces at the heart of our communities, and this programme [Engaging Libraries] is designed to help people explore new ideas and even play a role in influencing research.’
  • To support people in learning more about their own health, managing symptoms and understanding where to seek help, many Scottish libraries offer healthy reading or ‘shelf help’ collections. The Western Isles Library Service, for example, has collaborated with NHS Western Isles and local partners to create Dr You, a health reading collection to support self-management of healthcare (p31).
  • Macmillan @ Glasgow Libraries means that, pre-Covid, everyone in Glasgow was only one mile at most away from their local cancer information and support service. Since its launch in 2012, 18,000 people have attended, with many highlighting not only the value of having someone trained to listen and support them, as well as to signpost information, but of being able to have these interactions in a trusted non-healthcare community setting. ‘No one wants to go to a hospital. Libraries have a nice, relaxed atmosphere’, noted one attendee, while another said that ‘the best elements of the service include the volunteers, the non-intimidating environment and knowing that people are there to help. … If you are living with cancer I say go and speak to them. You won’t regret it. You’ll get nothing but help. You won’t find a better place to go to than the library’ (p44).
  • The essential support provided by Macmillan @ Glasgow Libraries didn’t stop during the pandemic, with their volunteers continuing to provide a telephone service offering support, advice and a listening ear. Almost two-thirds of callers in December 2020 said that their primary reason for phoning was ‘simply wanting to talk to someone about what they were feeling’, and one person publicly thanked the team for ‘calling me regularly to give me emotional support as well as helping me to access financial support I was entitled to. I can honestly say going through this ordeal with my liver cancer has been made easier to deal with,’ she said, ‘and if it was not for their magnificent workers I would not be looking forward to the future in the way that I do.’
  • Due to the pivotal role they play in supporting their communities, libraries have been recognised as essential services by the British Government – this article from our friends at CILIP highlights how ‘our national network of trusted, welcoming and inclusive library spaces is the perfect platform for social and economic recovery’. International library services have also been cited as integral to the creation of a more inclusive and compassionate post-pandemic world. For regularly updated information about the re-opening of Scottish libraries, please click here.
  • Around the world, libraries have and continue to be essential to the global Covid-19 recovery, particularly through their vital activities to tackle educational and digital inequalities. Click here for international evidence from as far afield as Egypt and Singapore – plus an acknowledgement of our very own Orkney Library and their creative solutions for keeping young minds occupied during lockdown (their LEGO club also received recognition in the press!)
  • ‘The pandemic has raised the profile of the academic library, highlighted that access to resources is critical and shown how study space is something students feel passionate about…’ This blog by Dr Elizabeth Andrews from University of St Andrews Library highlights the resilient response of Scotland’s Higher Education libraries when faced with Covid-19 restrictions and features quotes from students about why their library is essential now more than ever.
  • ‘Fearing reprisals from the regime, the organisers decided this library would be kept in the greatest of secrecy. It would have neither name nor sign. It would be an underground space, protected from radar and shells, where avid and novice readers alike could gather. Reading as refuge. A page opening to the world when every door is locked.’ Don’t miss this moving Guardian newspaper article about Syria’s ‘rebel librarians’ and the peaceful power of a library rising from the rubble of a warzone.

Thank you to our student placement Amy Clarke from the University of Strathclyde for her assistance in creating this evidence bank.

graphic kindly created by Xiaowei Jie

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