Sean McNamara is head of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professional in Scotland (CILIPS)

HOW does a society truly "level up"? A good place to start is by ensuring its communities can access services they not only want but often rely on, like the network of more than 500 public libraries across Scotland and the many brilliant school libraries with wonderful, skilled staff supporting them.

This is Libraries Week, a national celebration of all that these essential services do. Libraries have never been more critical to our society, but we must ensure that we have a political and funding system that supports them.

Local authorities have a statutory, legal obligation to provide libraries that meet their community’s needs, yet often this does not happen due to short-sighted decisions or a lack of funding. How a country or a council funds its libraries and other key public services is often the indicator of how much it truly values its people, and those who have the least.

Much talk recently has been about reducing inequality, and the seemingly hard-wired and potentially-increasing divide in our societies between the haves and have-nots. There are no better examples of a service that provides true equality of access to all, regardless of how much money you have in your pocket, than public libraries.

They evolve and change over time in many ways but at their heart they are always there to provide resources for all, whether that be books, information, newspapers, access to IT or simply a place to connect and feel safe within the local community. This has been highlighted recently with Martin Lewis setting up a partnership with CILIP, the professional body for librarians, to provide guidance on libraries being "warm banks" in the challenging months ahead. It is deeply unsettling that this response to a global and national catastrophe is needed but, as ever, libraries and librarians step up when required and show that their services are not some "nice to have" luxury.

Many libraries closed their doors and thrived digitally during lockdowns but research from the University of Strathclyde has shown that people need and want the physical library service, and services need to be once again back to full strength as the true engines of social mobility and growth, and thankfully the vast majority are back to pre-pandemic opening.

Libraries are there from cradle to grave. They are there for the parent taking their young child along to Bookbug or a bounce and rhyme session and making those early connections with the power of words and community. They are there for the school pupil finding a safe space to learn or fall in love with reading for pleasure whether that be in a school or public library.

Libraries are there for the person who cannot afford broadband or a home computer but needs to apply for jobs or claim benefits in a paper-free society. They are there for the person who wants to start their own business but doesn’t know where to begin.

Libraries in Scotland are crucial to accessing health information – with library staff in Scotland working in partnership with health services to ensure they can provide guidance on resources for self-management of health conditions when many cannot access GP services as easily as they once could. And then there is the role libraries play in simply reducing social isolation just by being a place in a community, when there are few like it left for older or more vulnerable people to go.

Libraries are there to ensure we never stop learning (the theme of this year’s Libraries Week) via community classes and access to materials. They motivate their users to build skills and confidence at every stage of their lives – whether it be empowering people in the workplace, helping to build active citizens, instilling creativity, or supporting mental health and wellbeing. They are also environmental by nature and a new Green Libraries network continues to grow, sharing ideas and resources.

School libraries increase attainment, improve literacy, provide access to reading for pleasure, support media and information literacy and the curriculum plus much more. They need to be staffed with dedicated and skilled librarians, yet still we see examples such as North Lanarkshire who are currently aiming to remove every school library post. Their pupils deserve better.

There are increasing murmurs of how a £43 billion hole due to tax cuts will be filled and public service cuts look once again likely. Our public services have been cut drastically over the last 14 years and inequality and poverty have grown. We must follow the example of some of our European neighbours and find a way to create a local government funding model that recognises the value of quality public services, not just with words but money. Regardless of your political persuasion, the current model in both Scotland and the UK is no longer fit for purpose and to coin an increasingly popular mantra, enough is enough.

Far too many skilled and talented school and public library workers (more than 10,000 in the UK) have lost their jobs since 2010 and this is no longer acceptable. We have national strategies for both public and school libraries in Scotland plus additional funding such as the £450k announced last week via the public library improvement fund. These are all very welcome national steps, and we need a regular and robust local funding model to go alongside it.

Library spending is well behind others in the UK, from £18 per capita in 2010 down to approximately £12. Some European countries spend around £25 per capita annually on libraries, and some such as Finland go as high as £50. Spending on libraries in Scotland has reduced by 30% since 2010 but visits have increased by 40%. Libraries are trusted spaces in a world that needs truth and quality information, but they can’t do it on a shoestring.

In a time where crises and "unprecedented situations" seem to appear on a weekly basis, we must start to think about long-term solutions for society and not short-term political fixes. Libraries are essential to this. This Libraries Week either have a look at what your local library is doing for its community or make sure you stand up for them when needed, like recent successful campaigns in Glasgow did.

The debate is no longer what libraries are there for but how they are supported, funded, and managed effectively to ensure no-one is left behind – and that is the beginning of true "levelling up".