THE head of Scotland’s library service said she would like to see as many children as possible become library members “at birth”.

Pamela Tulloch, chief executive of the Scottish Library & Information Council (SLIC), said it is working with health professionals to promote information on the benefits of library membership to parents as early as during antenatal care.

“What we would like to see is more children joining up as library members at birth,” said Ms Tulloch.

It comes as the SLIC and Scottish Government launch a new drive highlighting how library use from as early an age as possible benefits children’s language, literacy and social skills.

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Currently, around 50 per cent of children in Scotland are library card holders, but the Every Child a Library Member (ECALM) campaign aims to see that substantially increased.

ECALM originated as a pilot project over two years ago, but was stalled due to the pandemic and is now being rolled out nationally instead.

Ms Tulloch said: “From my point of view I just think the best present a parent can give a child is a library card. It opens up a world of possibilities and a lifetime of opportunities.

“The younger children are involved with libraries the evidence shows that there’s better attainment at school, there’s better opportunities for young people, and when they come to leave school - if they’ve been regular library users - they tend to have better opportunities for what to do next, so it’s a bit of a no brainer.

“We know that preschool children if they use libraries regularly have improved concentration skills, improved language skills, it develops empathy.

“We know that children read and understand pictures long before they read words so actually them understanding a story and engaging with that story really fires up young imaginations.

“It’s such an important part of children’s development and it’s such an easy thing to do for parents - it’s not something that costs money, it’s something that every parent can given their child.”

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There are over 500 libraries across Scotland which attracted more than 40 million visitors annually pre-pandemic.

Ms Tulloch said there are already indications that demand has increased.

She said: “All libraries in Scotland have now reopened. What some councils have taken the opportunity to do is change some of the opening hours to better reflect the use that some people are wanting and in some cases, that’s been opening hours expanding.

“Libraries are still the most popular service that local government provides.

“We saw before the pandemic over 40 million visits to local libraries in Scotland; the information I’m getting through from library services now is that a lot of the visitor figures are actually increasing on the 2019 numbers. That could be for a range of reasons but certainly it’s a very healthy picture.”

Concerns have been raised that toddlers who were born during the pandemic have been slower to reach key develop milestones as a result of lockdown reducing their opportunities to interact.

Ms Tulloch said libraries can play an important role in socialisation.

She said: “Libraries have got their full range of child and family programmes up and running so things like book bug for example is a really good opportunity for young children to meet other young children and learn those social skills and how to mix.”

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Every public library service in Scotland has now committed to delivering on the ECALM campaign.

A key part of the initiative will embed opportunities for library membership at three key stages throughout early childhood: birth registration, nursery, and primary school enrolment.

Culture Minister Neil Gray said: “It’s never too early to introduce a child to the joy reading, and library use from an early age supports language, literacy and well-being.

“ECALM is a fantastic initiative which will take children on a learning journey which will last for a lifetime.”