Librarians have 'implored' local counsellors reconsider a series of closures amid warnings over access to library services if a series of sweeping proposed cuts go ahead.  

South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) is consulting on closing a raft of facilities as it struggles to balance its budget, including a number of libraries.  

But the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland (Cilips), has urged the local authority to re-think its plans amid ‘grave concerns’ over the impact the closures would have on local people.  

Seven libraries were initially earmarked for closure at the start of last month, but this is now thought to have been downgraded to five. 

The move comes after South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture (SLLC) withdrew its services from a number of facilities and handed them back to council control. 

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The initial list of branches due to shut included Forth Library, Blantyre Library, Hillhouse Library, Bothwell Library, Greenhills Library ,Halfway Library and Cambuslang Library. 

The Herald: Cilips fear thousands will loose access to libraries Cilips fear thousands will loose access to libraries (Image: NQ)

In an open letter sent to SLC on Monday, Cilips Membership Officer Kirsten MacQuarrie, said that thousands of people would be left without access to a library closer than a one-hour trip on public transport.  

The letter also raises the danger of SLC failing to discharge its statutory duty under equality legislation to ensure that people have adequate provision to access libraries. 

The letter states: “We are writing to implore you and your fellow Councillors to reconsider the legal and societal implications of your deeply troubling decision to close seven public libraries across South Lanarkshire.” 

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It continues: “We are gravely concerned by the fact that these closures will leave South Lanarkshire with the lowest number of library branches per population anywhere in Scotland: fewer than one library branch per 20,000 people and less than half our national average.  

“Our analysis suggests that over 19,700 of your constituents will now no longer have access to a library branch within a one hour round trip on public transport.” 

Cilips also said that the council has failed to undertake an Equality Impact Assessment, raising concerns about the impact on protected groups. 

Its letter states: “We are greatly troubled by indications that South Lanarkshire Council took no legal advice before deciding to close the seven libraries in question.  

“Such legal counsel may have highlighted your statutory duty to secure the provision of adequate library facilities for all persons resident in your area, in a way that is also compliant with the Equality Act, upholding social justice for those with protected characteristics and reducing the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage.” 

South Lanarkshire Council is facing a £20.5 million shortfall in its budget, requiring savings across almost every part of the council’s work. 

It has announced a £1million Community Fightback Fund (CFF) to keep some facilities open in the short term, and a Future Libraries Fund as a separate, £150,000 fund to reprovision services.  

Responding to the appeal to reconsider, David Booth, Executive Director of Community & Enterprise Resources at South Lanarkshire Council, said: “We note the letter from CILIPS and we welcome the fact that they acknowledge ‘the challenging financial landscape within which the council is forced to operate’.

“That challenging financial landscape has forced the council to make a number of very difficult decisions in order to bridge a budget gap of more than £20 million in the current financial year alone. That is on top of many years in which funding for the council has not risen in line with inflation and other costs, and further difficult decisions will need to be made by this and all Scottish councils in the years to come. We note other local authorities have already had to close some libraries in previous years.

“We understand why an organisation that represents library professionals would focus on this particular saving, but it needs to be seen in the wider context of a range of other savings that have been necessary across all of the council’s services, including education and health and social care.

“However, some errors in the CILIPS letter need to be corrected. Following updates to original proposals, our leisure and culture services provider, South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture (SLLC) is withdrawing from five libraries, not seven. South Lanarkshire therefore will not have the lowest proportion of libraries per population in Scotland, and indeed provision will be similar to those of neighbouring authorities such as Glasgow and North Lanarkshire. This also means the claim regarding the number of residents who will be more than an hour’s bus ride to a library is also inaccurate.

“Moreover, a Future Libraries Fund was agreed as part of the council’s budget this year, and this and other funding  will be targeted at reprovisioning some services in those areas where SLLC will have to withdraw from libraries. We and SLLC will continue to work with local communities to develop reprovisioning options that will be best for their areas.”