In the midst of a nationwide cost-of-living crisis, public libraries are a lifeline of community support – not just in terms of free access to information, resources and events, but the pivotal role they play in people’s wellbeing.

Through their diverse offerings and inclusive nature, libraries contribute to all areas of social, cultural and daily life - and are continually building on their services to further transform and thrive in line with changing demands. And this role becomes ever-increasing in times of economic strain.

Independent research commissioned by Suffolk Libraries shows that libraries generate £41 million worth of social value, translating to £6 for every £1 invested, as well as saving NHS services a substantial £542,000 annually. This value is reinforced by new results from the Scottish Library and Information Council's 2023 Public Library Survey*. From over 15,000 responses from all across Scotland, over 93 per cent agreed that using the library improves their quality of life.

In poignant feedback, many cited reduced feelings of isolation or loneliness (38.82%), an increase in confidence (25.5%) and healthier behaviours and habits (32.81%) due to library use. Eighty-seven per cent of users also confirmed that libraries have helped them save money during the cost-of-living crisis.

On the day surveyed, while 67% per cent were still using the library primarily to read books, magazines or newspapers, and others were attending events, and using the computers or wi-fi; almost 200 people were visiting just to be somewhere warm.

This striking figure is a stark reminder of the reality facing so many today.

At a time when every penny matters, libraries are proving to be crucial financial assets for individuals and families navigating the complexities of the cost of living crisis.

From closing the attainment gap, to combating social isolation and bridging the digital divide, libraries connect and empower communities.

Adequate funding allows services to enhance their offering to provide support which benefits the communities they operate in most. It allows libraries to lead the way in enriching the sector’s offering with people, place and partnership at the heart.

Over the last 12 months, many libraries have seen people who do not normally visit become regulars, bringing their families in to play games and take part in organised activities. Their presence is significant in evidencing this community value.

As councils finalise their budgets for 2024/25, decision-makers must consider both the financial and social cost of not maintaining - and expanding - these essential services.

Cutting public library funding may seem like a short-term solution to budget constraints, but the long-term consequences are profound.

This is more than a bid for culture funding: it’s a plea to prioritise community wellbeing.

Our councils have the power to make a lasting positive impact by preserving and enhancing the resources available. It’s not just about books; it’s about investing in the collective future of our society.

*The Scottish Public Library Annual Survey 2023 received 15,287 responses from library-users across Scotland.

Pamela Tulloch is chief executive of the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC)