“Libraries,” as James Dean Bradfield once reminded us in song, “gave us power.” Bastions of learning, discovery and Lee Child novels, our libraries remain one of our cultural treasures. More than 20 million books were borrowed from public libraries in Scotland last year. They are a vital source for public good. Even in this strange year when access is hugely restricted, libraries have been doing their best to serve their communities. But many are now closed due to the pandemic and are dearly missed. Here are five of our favourites which we look forward to revisiting when circumstances allow.

The Mitchell Library, Glasgow

A testament to vaulting Edwardian ambition, the Mitchell Library is one of Europe’s largest libraries with stock of more than one million items. Originally located in the Merchant City, the Mitchell was founded in 1874, thanks to a bequest from tobacco merchant Stephen Mitchell. In 1906, a competition to design a new building (prompted by the bequest of the late Robert Jeffrey’s large collection in 1902) was won by William Whitie and the current building opened in 1911, with an extension opening at the start of the 1980s. The library is home to the city archives and is a magnet for family historians. We can’t wait for the return of the AyeWrite book festival to its hallowed halls.

Visit glasgowlife.org.uk/libraries/venues/the-mitchell-library

The National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh

Scotland’s largest library, home to more than 24 million printed works,100,000-odd manuscripts and a couple of million maps (and counting), grew out of the collection of the Library of the Faculty of Advocates which dates back to 1689. The National Library of Scotland was formally constituted by an Act of Parliament in 1925 after the Library of the Faculty of Advocates’ contents were presented to the nation with the help of a £100,000 bequest from Sir Alexander Grant of Forres.

He later gave a further £100,000 for the building of a new library on George IV Bridge. Construction started in 1938, only to be interrupted by the Second World War. The building – a slightly severe neo-classical design by architect Reginald Fairlie – wasn’t completed until 1956. Among its many treasures is the archive of publisher John Murray whose authors included Jane Austen, Lord Byron, Charles Darwin and Sir Walter Scott.

Visit nls.uk

The Sir Duncan Rice Library, Aberdeen University

Officially opened by the Queen in 2012, this airy node of learning (which cost a mere £57 million) was designed by Danish architects Schmidt Hammer Lassen, with its spectacular spiralling atrium, above, the highlight. “You feel as if you're inside a hollowed-out iceberg,” suggested architecture critic Jonathan Glancey when it opened. The striated exterior also catches the eye. The views from the seventh floor of the city and the sea must also be rather distracting for those trying to study. The building is open to the general public as well as students and staff.

Visit abdn.ac.uk

Leadhills Miners Library, Leadhills, South Lanarkshire

The oldest subscription library in the British Isles, Leadhills Miners Library was founded in 1741 by, as the name suggests, 21 miners (plus a minister and the local school master). It was indicative of the desire for learning amongst working-class people in the 18th century. Its success led to the establishment of similar reading societies in the neighbouring mining villages Wanlockhead and Westerkirk. The library was closed in the 1960s but reopened in 1972 after a fight led by the people of the village. It is one of the more modest libraries in Scotland, but few can be considered more important.

Visit leadhillslibrary.co.uk

Glasgow Women’s Library, Glasgow

Originally opened in 1991 in Garnethill, the Glasgow Women’s Library is now located in Landressy Street, G40, having grown from a small grassroots institution into a thriving social enterprise which is home to a collection of books and materials that reflect female experience, from Suffragette memorabilia to dress-making patterns. It also offers literacy and numeracy programmes and is active in a wide range of issues including poverty and women’s health.

Visit womenslibrary.org.uk/