By Jeanette Castle

IT seems almost every aspect of life at the moment is viewed through a Covid-19 lens. Rightly so, given the scale of public and private upheaval it continues to impose as we adjust to yet another raft of restrictions.

We’ve realised and learned many things over the last six months. It has given us all a new sense of our own personal resilience and agility. Likewise, businesses and organisations have recognised the importance of being able to change quickly.

Scotland’s public library sector had to transform overnight. Closing the doors to our library buildings and taking mobile libraries off the road goes against the very essence of libraries, which are founded on free and equal access for all. However, librarians and library staff across the country used the tools and technology at their disposal to maintain their communities. We’ve seen fabulous examples of libraries creating new virtual events and digital initiatives to ensure people continued to access what they needed.

As we begin, as a sector, to plan the next five-year national public library strategy to launch in 2021, the sense of libraries as a place is a priority. Far from proving that library services can operate and function without bricks and mortar, the pandemic lockdown has strengthened our resolve that the future of libraries is both physical and digital.

Scotland’s first public library strategy, Ambition & Opportunity, has supported transformational change in public libraries. We have seen a stronger commitment to digital inclusion and participation, with new innovations such as free wifi in all libraries and 3D printers; there has been a proactive approach to forming and formalising partnerships with organisations in the education, health, culture and business sectors; and public libraries continue to develop the critical role they play in the health and wellbeing of the nation.

Our key challenge is to build on the work and improvements of the last five years and ensure libraries continue to embrace digital and technological innovations to provide the best service possible.

The lockdown has further fuelled the digital transformation of services and invigorated thinking around future development. It will likely lead to new ways of serving communities.

At the same time, we also plan to further promote the idea of libraries as the living rooms of our communities.

The value libraries provide is in the communities they contribute to. They’re about the people and the partnerships. People visit the library to solve a problem, to escape, to learn, work or find work, perform, meet people, and to be inspired. They have confidence they can go to a library and find what they need and there’s a feeling of ownership and belonging.

I’ve worked in the library sector for more than three decades and, in my experience, colleagues I have worked with joined the profession because they want to help people. The book collections, technology, and programmes and initiatives are all designed with the same core aim – to help and support people in so many ways according to their needs.

Our work to develop a new strategy to be launched in 2021 is just beginning, but we start with a firm belief that people and place must be at the heart of it.

Jeanette Castle is chair of the Public Library Strategy Advisory Group and University Librarian at the University of the West of Scotland (UWS)