By Liz McGettigan, President, Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland (CILIPS).

SCOTLAND’S public library service became a national talking point recently when the Carnegie UK Trust published its research report, which concluded that libraries matter to people in Scotland.

The Shining a Light report was the result of a five-year longitudinal study into attitudes towards and usage of public libraries in the UK. A majority of those surveyed agreed that libraries were important to their local community with one in two people in Scotland identifying themselves as library users. The report found that more than 70 per cent of households with primary school-aged children are using public libraries while the number of young people using libraries has increased.

It is for reasons such as this that Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland has been running our Libraries Matter campaign over the last few months and asking councillors to support public libraries and professionally staffed school libraries. We are pleased to see libraries included in most of the party manifestos and we want to see this followed by action after tomorrow’s elections.

So, what is it about Scotland’s network of more than 500 public libraries that makes them such a valued community asset? We all know that you can borrow books from your local library. But libraries are about more than just books. They’re about making a difference to the everyday lives of individuals and communities.

I’ve been in the library and information industry for more than 30 years so I remember well when the library’s role was to equalise access to the knowledge, skills and opportunity required for people to learn, thrive and succeed. The only means to do that was through books. Fast forward in time and that currency moved from books to equalising access to the internet and online information, so we put PCs and online resources into libraries and offered sessions to skill up our customers. Fast forward again and now the job is also about equalising access and skills around the new and fast developing technologies.

You may have heard it said that in the age of Google and smartphones, libraries are a thing of the past. Not so. Around 20 per cent of households in Scotland have no access to the internet. Libraries and librarians throughout Scotland provide that access and help citizens gain the learning that allows them to become active in the digital world. Developing digital skills can increase employability, improve access to benefits, build social contacts and enable someone to find essential health information. Employability hubs in libraries are a one-stop-shop for job seekers, offering services from benefits advice to back-to-work training.

Our public libraries function as social spaces bringing people together and encouraging creativity and ideas. Spaces where young people are encouraged to engage with technology. Did you know that a recent initiative trained librarians in coding skills? Pioneering code clubs in libraries are encouraging children to meet and create digital games.

Some of our libraries work with local NHS partners to supply hearing aid batteries to local people. They offer support to access health information, are developing dementia-friendly services, and partner organisations such as Macmillan offer cancer information support in a friendly and welcoming space.

That’s not to suggest that books are no longer important. After all, reading for pleasure can boost attainment, promote literacy, build self-confidence, stimulate mental wellbeing and build social networks. Family literacy initiatives such as Bookbug and Read, Write, Count delivered in libraries are helping our youngsters get the best possible start in life. And each November, Book Week Scotland invites everyone to join the national celebration of books and reading, offering storytelling sessions and author visits.

In addition to this, professionally staffed school libraries are proven to help raise attainment. They are a safe and supportive learning environment where all pupils have equal and equitable access to curriculum-related learning resources.

If a free society is to survive, it must provide access to information to all its citizens. It must ensure that citizens have the resources to develop the information literacy skills necessary to participate in the democratic process. We need libraries because an informed public constitutes the very foundation of a democracy.

It is these cross-cutting contributions, coupled with the unique reach of libraries, which makes investing in them such good value for Scottish society. Library services help deliver Scotland’s key outcomes.

Every day, libraries across Scotland are working hard not only to develop literacy and a love of reading, but also to deliver early learning, digital and social inclusion. Our libraries are developing amazing collaborations and partnerships supporting key policy agendas. Investment in Scotland’s libraries represents an excellent investment in the community and its residents. So, let’s keep investing in libraries – and our future.