CILIPS Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland
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Dear Blantyre Library

Category: Blog

A reader in Blantyre Library.

by Kirsten MacQuarrie, CILIPS Membership Officer

Blantyre Library was the first branch I ever worked in. I wouldn’t be a librarian without it. To this day, it remains the beating heart of the town: lessening health inequalities for years by providing free prenatal vitamins, period products and hearing aid batteries; operating a ‘crime club’ – less menacing than it sounds, my monthly book group for fellow literary thriller enthusiasts – and connecting with the wider community by running an animal rescue foodbank, delivering 50 bags of library patrons’ donations to the nearest Scottish SPCA rehoming centre in time for Christmas.

two women and a dog standing beside a bench loaded with animal food and toy donations

Embedding and embodying the spirit of Every Child a Library Member, twice-weekly Bookbug sessions are a calendar highlight for Blantyre’s littlest residents – so popular that one of my former colleagues wryly coined the term ‘pramageddon’ to describe when the whole junior cohort arrives at once (on wheels). They and I, along with countless others in our community, were heartbroken this weekend to hear confirmation of Blantyre Library’s closure, alongside six other branches across South Lanarkshire.

An advocacy 'heat map' showing CILIP Scotland engagement with political decision makers from 2022-2024.

Here at CILIP Scotland, such news remains shocking but sadly unsurprising – you can read our archive of open letters to local authorities considering or implementing similar cuts to library services or consult the heat map we have created to visually illustrate our advocacy engagement throughout the last three years. 87% of consultation respondents ‘strongly disagree’ (62% – 2002 people) or ‘disagree’ (25% – 809 people) with the South Lanarkshire decision, and community campaigners with unparalleled local knowledge invariably prove critical in calling decision makers to account. Our upcoming podcast episode features an interview with the terrific team behind Save Aberdeen Libraries, who waged a particularly fierce fight in aid of their beloved branches, plus the wise words of Mike Dailly, principal solicitor advocate at Govan Law Centre. Libraries being ‘seen as the first port of call for cuts… is so shortsighted and unfair for local communities,’ Mike observed last month in the Glasgow Times, when ‘the popularity and importance of local libraries is unquestionable. They are essential in providing access to books, improving literacy, tackling social isolation and supporting mental health and wellbeing.’

As a local resident, what feels especially egregious to me is the way in which the South Lanarkshire decision leaves a barren ten-mile strip of eliminated libraries, cherished community spaces toppling like dominos (for patrons, of course, this is far from a game). Given that so many of the closing branches serve areas of multiple deprivation, the ostensible prospect of volunteer community ownership feels as unrealistic as our most vulnerable library users being able to undertake the hour+ round trip required to their ‘nearest’ equivalent. Frontline library staff know only too well that we are the only person some patrons speak to in a day. Without us, what social contact can they have without the need for a transaction? Chatting in the GP surgery waiting room even when well? Lingering at the bus stop, waiting in the cold for a chance at conversation even though they have nowhere to travel (or more bluntly, no way to afford it)?

Despite the distress and devastation this decision has already caused, I retain the utmost sympathy for our local Councillors. Thanks in no small part to having access to public and school libraries throughout my life, I am economically literate enough to realise that the books simply no longer balance. We are told that we live in a time of ‘tough choices’, a new if ironically unchosen political reality whilst the sustainable wellbeing economy Scotland dreams of remains largely rhetorical. Yet legally as much as morally, public libraries are under no obligation to compete with refuse collections, carers and safe traffic systems. They are a right. Your right. It is time to fight for that right.

That a Council cannot afford to meet its legal duty to citizens does not lessen the duty itself: to secure the provision of adequate library facilities for all persons resident in their area (in a way that is also compliant with the Equality Act 2010, upholding social justice for those with protected characteristics and reducing the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage). Indeed, how much more dire are the consequences of today’s challenging economic climate for those already most underserved in our communities, now deprived of their beloved public libraries and the social lifeblood they represent?

A graphic illustration of the University of Strathclyde Cost of Living Symposium, showing a librarian reading to children with the text 'trusted role' and 'duty of care' around them.

Conference graphic recording (inset) by

At a 2023 Cost of Living Crisis symposium at the University of Strathclyde, I shared the story of one of our daily – yes, daily – Blantyre patrons, the type who come to count as a friend. He confided in me that every day consisted of a choice for him between ‘the library and the bookies’. Both were warm. Both felt enticing. Both were open.

What fate awaits him now that choice has been taken away?

‘Dear Library’ by Jackie Kay, created by South Lanarkshire Libraries for National Poetry Day. Closing libraries now appear at 0.23-0.30, 1.08-1.35, 2.10-2.20 and 2.27-4.26.

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