Why we must defend and support our libraries

Publication Date
Sean McNamara
Knowledge in sound, audio wave, overlapping circles gradually increasing in size and decreasing in opacity against a blue/purple background
Knowledge in sound
Why we must defend and support our libraries

In a passionate plea, Sean McNamara, emphasises the need for the defence and support of libraries, stressing their integral role in upholding democracy, equality, and intellectual freedom.

A man wearing a striped shirt and smiling at the camera
Sean McNamara, Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals in Scotland (CILIPS)

When we consider how much we care about democracy, about equality and about true intellectual freedom, we also must consider how much we care about libraries. The libraries in our schools, our communities and many other places are where these values are truly upheld by often undervalued library workers.

How much value a society places on its people can be represented by how much it values institutions that level the playing field and allow access for all, like our libraries do. Our network of libraries across the country is one of the few places offering true social mobility at no direct cost to the user and this alone makes them worth defending.

Of course, on top of this is what they do for their many users, and in so many ways. Our public libraries provide access to books, IT and other resources to those who cannot or choose not to access them elsewhere. They provide a safe, welcoming space for study or reflection where no money is asked for – and this allows them to be places that reduce social isolation and improve health and wellbeing. Our school libraries do the same, being a place where as well as providing access to materials they also support the curriculum and provide pupils with the skills to research and find information or learn how to avoid misinformation. In addition to this, libraries are vital for sustainability, by promoting less consumption as well as many projects that help educate their users on climate responsibility.

At a time when food bank usage is massive, and access to books and reading for pleasure is falling for young people and one in four live in poverty, we need to defend and support our libraries. Across the country we see school librarians being ‘deleted’ or having their budgets slashed and we see branches of public libraries closing or losing staff. And these things are not happening because of libraries not being needed, they are still used by millions who rely on them in schools and communities, but because we have hit a crunch point for our public services. Years of austerity and funding models that slowly reduce our public services have left us at a point where service cuts are essential to what are essential services, pitting them against each other when our country has never needed them more, and more of them.

As we approach the next general and Holyrood elections, we want to see bold plans for how public and school libraries and local government in general can be funded robustly. We can’t survive if more austerity is on the cards. Instead of culture wars we need a vision for the future of our library network, backed by real money for resources and staffing.

For too long our vital libraries and their staff get by from year to year, pleased when they are fortunate enough to survive another round of cuts. This is not how we grow and thrive as a nation – we must end this cycle and treat libraries as the critical and social infrastructure they are while they continue supporting key agendas and sustainable development goals such as reducing poverty, increasing equality and wellbeing, and improving education. They are where community resilience is strengthened for all, and any true long-term political thinking must have them at its heart.