By Pamela Tulloch

THERE are only days left of 2020 – a year we will be glad to leave behind.

We have of course some time to wait before we see a normal routine return. Currently, many of us are wrestling with how to safely celebrate Christmas. There’s a strong belief that Christmas is a time for being with loved ones.

However, for many people, Christmas is difficult; it can be joyless and a time of extreme loneliness. As many make plans to see family and friends, those who are alone throughout the year experience increased feelings of isolation. Christmas Day, in particular, can be very lonely for some individuals.

Throughout the pandemic, librarians and library staff have been determined to maintain services for communities by pivoting to create new ways of connecting with and engaging members. They have overcome lockdown restrictions and helped stave off loneliness during what has been an incredibly isolating time.

The festive period will be no exception to this. Online library services have strengthened and grown significantly during 2020 and will continue to be available across the country to support people.

Despite experiencing a challenging year themselves, with closures and furlough affecting most services, librarians and library staff are putting on special Christmas activities and services. For example, South Ayrshire libraries have created wonderful Christmas displays to support their Connect & Collect service. In addition, they’re distributing a Winter Wanderland craft pack for children and there’s an associated scavenger hunt for families, which also involves local shops across the local authority area. In Inverclyde, the library service is collecting letters to Santa and running an online Christmas Bedtime Bookbug Session, as well as hosting a special online visit from Santa on the service’s Facebook page.

Library services play a vital role in tackling social isolation and loneliness all year round. As trusted public spaces, free to use, they truly are accessible to everyone. They are often described as the living rooms of our communities, offering comfort and a space where people come together.

This idea is particularly meaningful during the festive period, and more so this festive period after the year we’ve had.

The coronavirus pandemic and its associated restrictions – lockdown, social distancing, closure of leisure and hospitality venues, event cancellations – has created increased feelings of loneliness and isolation among more people. According to the Mental Health Foundation, which conducted a survey during the first national lockdown, one in four (24%) UK adults said they had experienced feelings of loneliness.

We have seen recognition of the value of library services strengthening throughout this year. For example, an unintended, but welcome, consequence of the coronavirus lockdown has been a significant increase in demand for online library services.

Their place at the heart of communities means that libraries are highly attuned to the needs of their communities. They know that, for some, libraries offer a lifeline. That’s why we’ll see librarians and library staff do what they can under a "Covid Christmas" to ensure everyone enjoys some comfort and joy.

Pamela Tulloch is chief executive at the Scottish Library and Information Council