Posted by: bluesyemre | November 19, 2020

With 20 million books borrowed last year, Scottish libraries matter

Pamela Tulloch, CEO, Scottish Library and Information Council

BOOK Week Scotland is the nation’s celebration of its favourite pastime – reading! Reading has proved to be a lifeline for people in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic plays out. Scottish Book Trust has carried out research into people’s reading habits during lockdown and it highlighted that 65% were reading more than they used to.

The Reading in Scotland: Reading Over Lockdown report also states that 75% of people interviewed used the library prior to lockdown for access to physical books and that for those with children, the library played an even more significant role in their access to books: 94% had been using the library to get books for their children prior to the lockdown. This strong engagement with Scotland’s public libraries demonstrates the special role which libraries have in expanding reading horizons.

With over 20 million books borrowed from public libraries in Scotland last year, it is no accident that reading remains the most popular cultural activity in Scotland. As the country went into lockdown, and public library buildings closed in March 2020, access was less available to physical books in libraries – however libraries flexed their offer and web-based services such as ebooks, eaudiobooks, emagazines and online newspapers all became heavily used by library members. Use of online library services rocketed during lockdown and new members, who had not appreciated what a strong free online reading offer there is, were attracted to libraries.

With over 43 million visits to public libraries in Scotland last year, use of the public library service remains the most popular service which local government provides. When the library venues closed, they were more than missed. The Report found that for those who preferred reading physical books, the lack of access to books through public libraries during lockdown had reading habits restricted. Concern was expressed about the impact this had on children who did not have access to a breadth of reading materials for a prolonged period of time.

To address this concern, many public libraries introduced “click and collect” and delivery services to enable physical books to be reunited with library users. These services drew on the skills of the library staff to select a range of bespoke reading materials for members of the public. Many library services are now stating that they intend to keep this service as part of the library offer. Not a bad legacy from the pandemic.

Scotland’s public library services have learned a lot from lockdown. They have realised that the digital library offer needs to be every bit as good as the service offer through the library venues: that one service cannot replace the other and that the physical and digital library service complement each other. Communities have also realised public libraries are a valued and vital part of the fabric of the community they serve. As one respondent to Scottish Book Trust’s Reading in Scotland: Reading Over Lockdown research put it: “For me a library was and is now one of my essential life services. After lockdown I will be delighted to get back to the library”.

Public libraries in Scotland are celebrating Book Week Scotland 2020 with the creativity and flare that you would expect in a COVID-safe way with online author sessions, online book discussion groups, quizzes and much more.

For more information visit

Pamela Tulloch, CEO, Scottish Library and Information Council

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