AN ACADEMIC has erred caution on being too precious or wedded to legacy buildings where libraries are housed compared to what services need to be delivered today.

Peter Reid, a professor of librarianship at Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University, who led research into Scottish public libraries during lockdown, said he has never been locked in to the idea that they have to be housed in their original buildings and believes that co-locations can work.

Professor Reid said one of the main conclusions they reached following a study into library use during the peak lockdown period last year was the important advocacies for libraries.

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“The advocacy for libraries was clear from our research but there is no easy solution coming out of lockdown,” he said. “One of the things that I think is absolutely crucial, though, is the community role hubs and libraries have to play. You hear repeatedly people saying it is not just about books, but books are the cornerstone to self-improvement, learning, education. That free at the point of use community space where nothing is expected of a patron - a patron can go in and use a library in almost any way that they see fit. There is no demand put upon them, they don’t have to buy something, they don’t have to speak to staff. They can go and find their newspaper and go and sit in the corner. There are very few safe, neutral, free public spaces where nothing is expected of you.

“One of the most moving things we were told when we did the interviews for the report was a head of service who said to us they had a patron in one of their libraries who came in two or three times a week and he had a look at the newspapers and then fell asleep in a chair and that was because the library was his safe space. The head of service said ‘I don’t know what happened to that man and I am worried about him.’ That comment tells you about the ethos of what these places are.”

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He believes there is a need to be very careful in terms of being precious about the fixed locations library services have always been in.

“You could quote a raft of 19th century philanthropists from Carnegie to Elder who gave buildings. They were very cutting-edge buildings in say 1896 for example but they are not always suitable in 2021 for the kinds of services that libraries need to deliver,” he added.


Glasgow Life assistant Gail Hughes, right, taking a Bookbug session at Gorbals library, Glasgow. Pictured joining in is Dylan Stewart, age 18 months, with his grandmother Marie Callaghan. Photograph by Colin Mearns.

Glasgow Life assistant Gail Hughes, right, taking a Bookbug session at Gorbals library, Glasgow. Pictured joining in is Dylan Stewart, age 18 months, with his grandmother Marie Callaghan. Photograph by Colin Mearns.


“They maybe old fashioned, costly to heat, renovation costs needed, not suited for the nature of the services we have today such as IT suites, lecture facilities. Every authority makes the best of the spaces they have but there are challenges with some of the buildings. I have never had any problem with the co-location of libraries with other facilities. I know a retired head of service who said he regretted that he hadn’t embraced that more fully 20 years ago when things were more rosey in the garden before the economic crisis of 2008/09. There are terrific examples of where that happens. If you look at Penicuik – you turn left for the leisure centre and right for the library. You have got them in schools but that was problematic post covid where the reopening has been difficult, but I have never been wedded to the fact that we must cling to an estate as the estate was 50 to 100 years ago.

“It doesn’t matter if we are in a 100-year-old building or a unit in a local shopping centre. I think where the difficulties come is where communities rightly feel aggrieved if the service is being taken away from them completely or it becomes so inconvenient for them to use if it is relocated three bus rides away or in rural areas if you don’t have your own transport and are dependent on a mobile library coming every few weeks. I think there was always going to be the issue around the socio-economic need for the library for communities. The library is for everyone and the people who make the most of the library are the least advantaged in our communities.”


Bookbug figure among books pictured at Gorbals library, Glasgow. Photograph by Colin Mearns.

Bookbug figure among books pictured at Gorbals library, Glasgow. Photograph by Colin Mearns.


Glasgow libraries are beginning to reintroduce face to face services following the pandemic including the first Book Bug session at Gorbals library this week, a chance for pre-school aged children to learn through stories and rhyme and give parents the chance to meet.

While Glasgow Life, the charitable trust which is runs the city’s culture and leisure services, has a reopening programme for 28 of its 33 libraries, there are five whose futures are still uncertain.

Glasgow Life lost £38m in income last year due to the pandemic and predicted income for 2020/21 is around £6.4m, and while Glasgow City Council has reached an agreement for it to receive a guaranteed £100m a year for the next three or four years, Glasgow Life has only been able to open 90 of its 171 venues. Without further funds, it cannot open any further sites.

It is why The Herald is leading A Fair Deal for Glasgow campaign, which is calling on both the Scottish and UK governments to agree a new funding deal after culture and leisure services were hit hard by the pandemic.


Gorbals library, Glasgow, has restarted Book Bug. Photograph by Colin Mearns.

Gorbals library, Glasgow, has restarted Book Bug. Photograph by Colin Mearns.


And this week campaign group Glasgow Against Closures is staging a rally to hold the Scottish Government to account for what they describe as the continued defunding of services and communities in Glasgow.

The campaign group argues communities are facing serious deprivation due to national and local governments' cuts to public spending.

It has been estimated it would take £1.2m to reopen the five remaining libraries – Whiteinch, Maryhill, the Couper Institute, GoMA and Barmulloch. Last week city politicians pledged to bid for Glasgow’s share of £1.25 million Scottish Government fund available to help libraries.

Andrew Olney, head communities and libraries at of Glasgow Life, said services were returning face to face such as cancer support groups with Macmillan charity, financial support and digital skills programmes, but he said they know that the pandemic highlighted the digital divide in the city as services moved online. He said while there were positive programmes including devices being handed out across communities to give them digital access, the development of those skills will be significant as part of recovery.

Mr Olney said they are also looking to engage with communities affected in the areas where facilities haven’t reopened.

He said: “There have been no decisions about any closures. We are working closely with the city council around how we can source additional resources that we would allow us to reopen those buildings. There was obviously the announcement last week about Scottish Government funding support for libraries and we are awaiting more details about that as we are very interested and keen to make the most of that which will hopefully allow us to have the opportunity of some good news, but we recognise that is a one-off payment.

“We are in a position now with some of the libraries which haven’t reopened where we are looking to engage with those local communities around how we can take things forward and take some of those discussions with the campaign groups, and us and the council forward. We really do recognise the value that people place on libraries and the challenge is how we change the discussion from the value to actually securing the future and how we work with local communities in terms of identifying potentially innovative solutions.”

Sean McNamara, head of CILIP in Scotland, said they were delighted to see more libraries open in Glasgow but were concerned about those which hadn’t reopened.

Mr McNamara said: “We are still deeply concerned at the libraries that remain closed indefinitely, with no consultation meaning people in areas of Glasgow, including areas with social deprivation cannot access vital services. A financial solution for this must be found urgently to ensure libraries can meet the needs of their communities as both staff and users deserve better."