Scotland’s Culture Minister has warned local councils to think “extremely carefully” before rolling out cutbacks to libraries after it was revealed the number of library staff has fallen since 2017.

New figures, obtained through Freedom of Information requests, reveal that the number of library staff in Scotland has dropped from 1,462 full-time equivalent workers in 2017-18 to just 1,306 by 2021-22.

The data comes from the 24 out of 32 Scottish local authorities that provided responses to the requests.

The Scottish Conservatives have warned that the drop in staff by 156 full-time equivalent positions shows the impact cuts to local authority budgets from the Scottish Government is having.

Read more: Budget cuts: Fears the axe could fall on Scots library services

Scottish Conservative shadow secretary for social justice, housing and local government, Miles Briggs, has called on Humza Yousaf’s government to provide more funding to local councils in order to halt further cut-backs to libraries.

He said: “Libraries are incredibly important to our local communities as centres of recreation and learning.

“They provide a vital service – particularly for low-income households that rely on them for access to books and computers – so this steep decline in staff numbers is very concerning.

“But council budgets across Scotland have been crippled by years of systemic underfunding and savage cuts from this SNP Government. “

Mr Briggs added: “Our local authorities are facing a funding crisis and the sad reality is that this results in public services such as libraries paying the price.

“The buck stops with Humza Yousaf – the SNP must finally agree to the Scottish Conservatives’ calls for fair funding settlements so that councils can ensure cherished services like our local libraries have all the resources they need.” 

Statistics show that more than one in eight Scottish libraries closed permanently between 2009-10 and 2019-20.  

Read more: Scotland's libraries should be staffed like any other council service

Sean McNamara, head of Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland (CILIP) in Scotland, has previously warned that the way councils are funded in Scotland means ministers are “no longer providing enough to fund all key services”, adding that  “changes need to be made”.

He added that a dramatic reduction in staff from libraries risks them no longer being “an effective or adequate service”.

According to the Scottish Government, the number of public libraries in Scotland declined from 627 in 2009-10 to 544 in 2019-20, representing a loss of 83 libraries in total – or 13.2%.

The Scottish Government has claimed that local councils have been given a funding boost for the 2023-24 financial year of more than £376m, claiming this represents a 3% real-terms increase.

But Cosla, ahead of this year’s budget, warned that without further funding, councils could be forced to cut library assistants by up to 1,400 and reduce library provision by 40%.

Maureen Chalmers, Cosla’s community wellbeing spokesperson, warned that over recent years culture services “have already been subject to cuts as councils have protected other areas like education”.

Read more: Kerry Hudson: Libraries were a lifesaver for me

SNP Culture Minister, Christina McKelvie, has told The Herald that local councils are bound to provide adequate library services.

She said: “Local authorities have a statutory duty to ensure that there is adequate provision of library services for their residents.

“Any decision around public libraries must be considered extremely carefully and local authorities should work in partnership with communities to explore new ways of delivering services.”

Ms McKelvie added: “We will continue to support our libraries to provide invaluable resources to their local communities through our annual Public Libraries Improvement Fund.

“While UK Government cuts are squeezing many public services in Scotland, the Scottish Government is doing what it can to support our libraries to provide invaluable resources to their local communities through our annual Public Libraries Improvement Fund.“