Posted by: bluesyemre | October 11, 2021

The role of #libraries is more important now than ever

Pamela Tulloch is CEO of the Scottish Library and Information Council

DESPITE the almost-deserted appearance of our towns and cities during the pandemic, behind the closed doors of our public libraries, huge efforts were being made to keep communities connected.

For 18 months, staff at Scotland’s libraries have worked hard to maintain the connections that people crave. Innovating in light of restrictions on physical distancing, staff pivoted to provide the same fulfilment and community space through digital means.

From virtual film clubs, click and collect and telephone check-ins to virtual school library visits and extending home delivery services, the network of interactions that make libraries unique continued – despite not all being under the same roof. For those living alone or shielding, this interaction and connection provided a glimpse of normality; serving as a crucial reminder that, despite fear and isolation, the outside world was still there.

That desire for, and impact of, connection to the outside world cannot be underestimated. An explosion in the usage of e-newspapers and e-zines via library platforms reflected an innate desire to feel connected to a bigger picture.

An example is Aberdeen Libraries’ recorded increase of 189 per cent in digital users in 2020, with a further 288% increase in 2021; a pattern that was mirrored nationally. Indeed, Edinburgh Libraries received international recognition for the “Most Newspapers Read in 2020 Worldwide” by provider PressReader. This accolade was achieved thanks to a staggering two-million-plus downloads across more than 2,000 titles.

Providing meaningful connections within communities is what libraries do best, and their ability to do it has never been more needed.

The recent launch of a new five-year public library strategy, called Forward, aims to align the digital offering with the physical library offer in communities as we emerge from the pandemic. By enabling and empowering communities, it plans to maintain these meaningful benefits and drive progress on many social challenges facing the lives of Scots.

Improving mental wellbeing is an important aspect where libraries are well placed to make a difference. Increasingly, library staff work with third sector organisations and the NHS to link local health services with those who need them.

Libraries also aid economic and social wellbeing by supporting individuals through points of transition in their life, such as seeking employment or upskilling for a career change. Free online access remains an imperative service with increased use of digital application forms. Training courses supported by library staff and partner organisations will provide access to new knowledge and skills, particularly pertinent with a post-pandemic employment landscape. As the wider economic recovery starts libraries will lend entrepreneurial support through access to technology, and collaborative workspaces.

Scotland has a very proud history of using public libraries. They are an essential part of our social fabric, supporting and inspiring people to fulfil their potential for over 150 years. They provide a safe, welcoming and trusted place for interaction and are crucial in combatting some of our biggest modern challenges, such as bridging the digital divide and tackling social isolation.

They are more than books. They are a lifeline.

Pamela Tulloch is CEO of the Scottish Library and Information Council.

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