CILIPS Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland
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Mobile Libraries: A key part of Scotland’s library service jigsaw

Category: Blog, News

The Mobile Libraries Day logo - white text on a pink background with illustrations of books and a mobile library van underneathby Pamela Tulloch, CEO of The Scottish Library & Information Council

As Book Week Scotland 2021 takes place with a theme of ‘celebration’, we at the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) have been busy shouting about all the amazing things library staff and services have been doing throughout the year to make a real difference.

Earlier this year, SLIC published the new Scottish Public Library Strategy ‘Forward’ for 2021-2025. It has provided direction for public library services in Scotland as we emerge from the pandemic and has a particular focus on digital development via training, more integrated online resources and specialist advice for staff and users.

However, while we get the strategy underway, we are clear that digital library services will not replace physical buildings and local hubs; they are an enhancement of the service on offer. Physical library spaces provide a range of services and benefits, from support groups and NHS health partnerships to a chance for children to learn through play. They are also central in tackling social isolation, by providing opportunities for communities to meet face to face in a safe environment. The impact these services have on employability to health and wellbeing will play a pivotal role to empowering communities as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

But what about the library users who live in rural areas, or can’t easily access their local library? This is where mobile libraries are a key part of the jigsaw.

During Book Week Scotland, we showcase the wonderful work of mobile library services on ‘Mobile Libraries Day’ which takes place on Wednesday 17 November. There are 49 mobile libraries in Scotland, operated by 22 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.

These roving hubs serve an important purpose in ensuring library users still have access to resources – and for some, human connection.

Even before the pandemic, research commissioned by SLIC found that mobile library services are greatly valued by users and were described as a “lifeline”.  The Libraries on the Move report found that 98% of mobile library users rate the service as very or extremely valuable. Older people described the service as beneficial to overcoming feelings of loneliness and isolation, and families praised the service for helping with literacy, reading for pleasure and doing things as a family.

The work behind making mobile libraries a relevant and well-serving resource is powered by the detailed efforts of library teams. Through understanding the communities they serve, these library services use innovation to generate positive outcomes across almost all the key library focus areas.

One group providing support to achieve this is the Public and Mobile Libraries Group Scotland established earlier this year. The specific Scottish subgroup of the wider CILIP’s group provides a space to share best practice and has recently highlighted some key examples of the impact which mobile libraries can have during the showcase event ‘Scotland’s Libraries – Beating Hearts of their Communities’ for Scotland’s Libraries Week 2021.

As our lives move forward into a period of recovery from the pandemic, libraries remain central to communities. They will play an essential part in our economic and social recovery and live up to their core position in Scotland’s social fabric where they have remained for over 150 years. To achieve this, we need to embrace the diversity of the services we enjoy, and celebrate every piece of that jigsaw – including mobile libraries.

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