The future of Scotland’s libraries

Navigating challenges and charting futures in Scotland’s libraries.

The library sector in Scotland plays an essential role in improving literacy and attainment, providing access for all, increasing social inclusion and wellbeing, and reducing the digital divide. Our libraries of all kinds remain well-used and popular. As well as that, they are being asked to deal with challenges such as the cost-of-living crisis, book-banning requests, misinformation, the need for climate emergency awareness and more, and all of this in the face of growing budget challenges. This panel discussion revolves around the current impact of Scotland’s libraries and the role the panellists see them playing in the future.

Transcript

This transcript has been automatically generated, so it may feature errors.

Dr James Robertson  04:01

Okay, good evening, everybody. Can you hear me? All right? Yeah, great. We’re just about ready to go. I think this may be, you know, the door is closing. So we’re good to go. And welcome to this. Royal Society of Edinburgh investigates event is one of a series of events that are happening this year. Today we’re going to be talking about the future of Scotland’s libraries. Just a little bit of housekeeping before we start. That is not a practice fire alarm do to happen in the next hour. So if the alarm goes off, then we need to leave the building. There’s a fire escape directly behind the way you came in. And there’s also another one over there as well. Can I also ask if you haven’t already done so could you turn your phone’s off or put into silent? That’s brilliant. Thank you very much. Yeah, my name is James Robertson. I’m a writer, and it’s a great honour to be chairing this I want to talk about the role of libraries now in Scotland, the challenges and pressures that they face, but also to think into the future about where libraries might be in 10 or 20 years time. And to discuss these things, we’ve got three incredibly well informed panellists. And they’ll just introduce you to them. One by one first, immediately sitting next to me, is Éadaoín Lynch. They are the research and evaluation manager at Scottish Book Trust, and is leading the Scottish Book Trust first independent research project on the value and impact of Scotland’s public libraries and school libraries. And we’ll hear quite a bit more about your research in a little while. And when not doing that work, Éadaoín Lynch as a writer, and a freelancer with a background in poaching. Next, we have Amina Shah, who I think probably needs no introduction in this building. Amina is our national librarian and chief executive of the National Library of Scotland. She has had more than 25 years of experience across the cultural sector in Scotland. He was previously Chief Executive Officer of the Scottish Library and Information Council, Director of programme at the Scottish Book Trust, and President of the Chartered Institute of light Library and Information Professionals in Scotland. She’s leading member of the court at the University of Dundee, a visiting professor at Robert Gordon University, and chair of the legal deposit libraries group in the UK and Ireland. So no shortage of experience and knowledge to help us through this session. And finally, on the chair furthest away from me is Sean McNamara, who is Chief Executive of the professional body for works in Scotland, which is indeed the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland, which is usually called CILIPS just to save time, yes. And that team supports the profession via professional development, advocacy work more. And More Issues. Crucially, important aliens, as opposed to just libraries themselves. So I’m sure we’ll be talking more about their role. as we as we go on, I thought to kick off, I would just try and think back a little bit about where libraries have been in my lifetime. So that we can talk about where they are now, and where they might be in future. And it should see also that towards the end of the session, we’ll have time for questions from the floor. So we’ll try and allow a bit of time for that. And we’re also we have an online audience so that they will be folk who are listening or watching online, who want to put some questions to the panel as well. So we’ll do that a wee bit later. Yeah, thinking about public libraries and languages in general. Over the last 50/60 years, I thought maybe I could just tell you a personal account of what they meant for me. I’m a baby boomer, I grew up in the 60s and 70s. And I was absolutely inculcated into the library habit from a very young age by my mother, who signed me and my older siblings up for library membership almost before we could walk I think I’ve got particular fondness for a couple of libraries in Scotland, to the both of them actually libraries that were funded by the Carnegie and diamonds of Andrew Carnegie in the 19th century. And the first of these was Stirling Central Library, big ornate building with turrets and many windows. And I have fond memories of that because it was there that my mother took me out to be issued with my own fresh bottle was tickets, I think I was six years old at the time. And having read through everything I could in the children’s shelves, about 11 I was granted access to the adult station through enormous and heavy plus panel doors, which was moving from one world had completely engaged me into an even bigger world and even bigger room and even bigger world to engage me for the next following years. And then little after that. They opened a brand new public library in Bridge of Allan where we stayed. And after that it was just a cold walk down to the library and it was it was I was there in probably three or four times a week during school holidays. So It was a libraries for my childhood and teenage years were absolutely essential, and I can’t really imagine what life would have been like without them. Again, on a personal note, the other library for which I have great fun, this is another Carnegie funded one in Dorner, just quite close to it, Andrew Carnegie’s big, human Skeeble castle as it stands. And it was there. More than half a century after I first got a library ticket, that I had to return my mother’s last bottle book after her death. So that’s been my sort of story over many, many decades now. And as I said, I can’t really think what like what my life would have been without labour it is because apart from public libraries, I’ve benefited from university libraries from research libraries, like this astonishing building, or the admin City Library across the road. And libraries of all kinds have come to my help, or either I’ve managed to get myself find research, find books and find essential information that I wouldn’t have been able to find in any other places for a long time. But it’s true, of course, also, that the nature and of getting access to information and the availability of information has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. And so we need to talk about how that has affected libraries and the service that they provide. Very, very briefly. We were talking again, before we started about how the pressure is on local authorities to save money to that everybody’s under a cost of living crisis, pressure. And there was a report and the newspaper just a couple of days ago about a local authority that is thinking considering seriously about closing five or six local libraries. And I happen to know some of the communities where those libraries are. And they’re deprived communities, they’ve already lost a lot of community spaces, they’ve lost lost factories and places of employment, they’ve lost shops, and pubs, and even schools. And I think sometimes when the last place to go with the library, it feels like an act of cultural vandalism, and a deprivation of further debt provision for some of those communities. And that’s because that’s what it is, I think. So Andrew Carnegie, with his life when my argue on different fronts, but I don’t disagree with him one iota on this one, he wrote, “There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the free public library. This Republic has letters where neither rank office nor wealth receives the slightest consideration and library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit his people. It is a never feeling spring, in the desert.” So on that note, hopeful note, I hope of the past, let’s turn to the future. And I’d like to ask each of you in turn, first of all, thinking about where we are now, with libraries of various different kinds, because there are so many different kinds of libraries. They’re not just all public access libraries in Scotland. Where do you feel we are now? With them? What are your hopes are your worries about the sector? But also thinking ahead? 10 or 20 years? Where do you think we might be then? And what again, are your fears and hopes about those bacteria period? That’s coming up towards us? Can we start Sean? Yeah.

Sean McNamara  13:42

I think my journey to libraries follows a similar passage of that first feeling of going into poet huge library and being in the children’s section, and then you’d walk through to the adult section, the words feel different than you can wait to eventually be able to go in there and the way I think of libraries, then they are very different from what they are now, you know, there’s there’s so many other services around digital inclusion and other other vast number of services that are providing Labours and maybe weren’t then but they’re still about the same thing. They’re still about equity and access of still a safe, trusted space. They’re still a place where the staff are incredibly skilled and resilient. But it is under a far tougher financial landscape. And that that is a challenge. But what what libraries are doing now as meeting so many agendas, whether that be reducing social isolation, increasing digital inclusion, improving mental health and wellbeing, they’re meeting so many different agendas, but doing it with with often so little resource and trying to do it every year with a little bit less. I mean, I think libraries over the last 10 years or so will have seen 40% increase in visits but 30% decrease in funding. And that’s a really stark contrast. So I made my way for the for the sector. And you know, how do we find that funny? How do we keep that support going for libraries so that there was amazing staff and it was amazing buildings can continue to empower young people when they first enter them and then throughout their life. And because we do see there is a lot of political support for libraries, but there is a tough, a tough battle to fund them. And it’s the same across the board, school librarians, you know, improve attainment, they help people access meetings with pleasure for the first time, but there’s only one between two schools or in some local authorities, none at all. And it’s very difficult. But libraries, wherever they are still doing that same core value that hasn’t changed how they do it is different. But how the, how they achieve it is going to continue to evolve over the next 20 years in different ways. But it has to have that support, it has to have that backing, their we’ll use they’ve got the public backing. But it’s how we find a way to increase that backing from policymakers and decision makers going forward. Because we have, we still have a fantastic network. Although there weren’t any Labour’s calls in Scotland. They’re doing incredible things all across school IVs academic libraries, as well. All providing that access to people that are free to use a free space in the community. As you say, you know, when pubs are closing community centres, often the library was always the only place where you didn’t have to spend money. And in some communities, that’s the only place left. And if you take that out, what have you got left in that community? So we have to protect them with everything we’ve got.

Dr James Robertson  16:36

Yeah, and all libraries have always been to an extent a place of refuge. Quiet peace and quiet to some extent, but also where people can go with it can’t go anywhere else. And that’s still the case. But perhaps it’s just shifted in that way. And maybe it’s shifted in the demographic and who’s going to labour is no as well. I don’t know if that’s the case, we might find a bit more out from you about whether actually the demographic has stayed the same or with it. Over the years. Amina, can I ask you to respond to that first, the idea that we’re where we are now and where we might be in 10 or 20 years?

Amina Shah  17:10

Yeah, well, well, where we are now I think is it’s challenging is challenging across the whole area. I think that stat that you were seeing shown is really interesting. It’s a 40% increase in demand, and a 30% reduction in funding, which seems remarkable. And we at the National Library, we are also have increased on our pre COVID figures and numbers of people coming. So it’s it’s interesting that that that is the case. And I actually think that the network of libraries that we have, and some of the work that’s going on, is unbelievably impactful. And some of the things are happening are incredible. There’s such good areas of good practice and expertise. There’s a lot that benefits, communities, lots of benefits, research and individuals, a whole ecosystem is fabulous. But it is a fractured picture. It’s not the same everywhere. And there’s so much disparity. That’s that’s a difficult thing, where I think that we could be in the future, I personally feel that we’re living through a period of division that’s greater than anything I’ve seen in my lifetime. Where in actual fact, we need spaces like this, where people can come together, we need spaces that belong to everyone where people can meet people who aren’t like them hear a story that’s about something that’s not like they already think or know, be challenged, be open to learn, they need a human, whether it’s in a school library, or here or in an any public library, or university library, they often need a human. I’ve worked in libraries, academic libraries, public libraries, know the National Library. And what I see across the board is it’s that that human impact that interaction, whether it’s between humans that come there between libraries, not that librarians are like library staff, and that’s all the library staff like in the university, I worked in St. Andrews. And you know, it’s one of the the best performing universities in the UK. And yet lots of young people who go there feel scared, vulnerable alone. There’s wellbeing issues, as well as academic issues. And often it’s the nighttime staff in the library who are on the door that help them. So there’s such a range of impacts and, but we’re also facing a world where the truth is being questioned. And we also have availability of resources, particularly libraries, like cars were really good deposit library, but also other libraries to be able to demonstrate to people this is where you can find out for yourself. What could be what’s fake and what’s not. I have four children and I see it so much, particularly my two younger sons, that they’re being pushed material online by algorithms that actually, they could really benefit from having a conversation with someone about. And I do, by the way, but, you know, we really need that more than ever. And that goes back to what you were saying, James, about Andrew Carnegie about democracy, because at the end of the day, there is no ability for democracy to happen if you don’t have information for all empowerment education. And I’m starting to think because I’m involved in library, National Library networks and in Europe. And also, if you were there, Shawn, you know, for libraries and across the world, we’re hearing that libraries are being targeted a for censorship. And you know, when when every child has a phone in their pocket, and somehow, suddenly books that are on a shelf are a threat, that’s interesting. And they’re also being targeted for funding at a time when we need democracy more than ever, and I can’t help wonder sometimes whether there’s a link between those two things, and in actual fact, people do understand the power of libraries. And that’s why they’re being a little bit squeezed. I mean, that’s a bit controversial, but I don’t

Dr James Robertson  21:17

think so. I mean, the power of books, as we know, is the first first thing that anybody who wants to repress or oppressive people does is they’ve been banned books, button books, on bomb libraries, or whatever, and make sure that people don’t have free access to information.

Amina Shah  21:30

Absolutely. So when you think of the future, I think we could have a very bright future. If, at this point in time, as a society, we recognise that this is an incredible resource that we’ve got that it’s actually, if you think about cost measures is so cheap, it’s actually a spend to save it’s an investment. And we see a lot of private schools, for example, and academic institutions that are at the top of the game, they know that and they invest in the library service, because it pays dividends for the well being and the attainment of the rest of their community. And I think if we can recognise that, and more as a society, I think that in actual fact, there is a lot that we can do to support the challenges of the future, not least by the way, climate change, which is a huge issue for all of us to consider in the world. And libraries have a very strong role in helping with those conversations with understanding.

Éadaoín Lynch  23:06

So yeah, I’m here representing Scottish Book Trust. Without libraries, we would not be able to run the majority of our programmes, and thinking particularly of something like Bookbug, where we have provisioned for every child of Scotland, between birth and the age of five, to have access to books and stories, songs and rhymes. That just wouldn’t happen without libraries. And so to that end, we were really interested in finding out more data about like, what is it? What are the what is the value and impact of Scottish libraries, because a lot of the research, as you both know, is UK based or England specific and not an awful lot of data available just for Scotland. So from that, we’ve surveyed librarians, we’ve interviewed librarians, there’s a current survey out for library users, and it’s open till the end of June, if anybody’s interested. Please do fill it out. We’re asking questions about reading for pleasure, about learning opportunities, about digital inclusion and about democracy, essentially, and how to be more engaged and more empowered. And definitely the research is chiming with what you’ve both outlined. Librarians in particular, are very concerned about the restrictions to their services, one in three are reporting that their whole service is at risk of reduction or losses, which at first, you know, one in three doesn’t sound too bad. In a sense, it’s not the majority, but out of 500 public libraries in Scotland, that’s 166 that have just disappeared. You know, four and five are reporting particular restriction on their funding and resources. And that has an impact on staffing and that has an impact on their opening hours. It has an impact on the actual work that they can do within that library space. And, you know, I’m hearing so often from librarians talking about their concerns about the future of libraries. There are concerns that libraries are being put under more and more pressure to fill more and more demand. And due to other public service cuts, and there is a sort of risk of, you know, the libraries do have a wonderful universal offer and do put on a huge amount to cater to every single person in the community. They shouldn’t have to bridge gaps that they were never designed to cater to, you know, there is that double edged sword of you know, they do provide digital devices and Wi Fi, and that has become a utility for everybody in this country. And yet, we know that there are up to a million people in Scotland who do not have access to digital devices or Wi Fi, who are facing digital inequality. And libraries are helping bridge that. But there shouldn’t be so much pressure on them to do that, especially when their resources. So it is definitely a very mixed outlook on the future. But a very hopeful one in terms of how resilient our librarians are, how resourceful they are, how much they do manage to put on, even with dwindling resources and understanding. So yeah, definitely tallies with everything that Amina and Seanhad been saying, okay.

Dr James Robertson  26:01

All right, let’s let me throw out a difficult question, or maybe not a difficult question to question for you to answer. And I’ve just outlined my experience of libraries rate through my my youth, my childhood and my adult life as well. But it’s certainly the case in the last 20 years, access to information has become much more readily available through the internet, obviously, the whole nature of how information is delivered to us has changed substantially. The newspaper industry has been completely changed. So there’s an argument I’m not saying it’s a good argument. But it is an argument to say we don’t need library spaces in the same way as we did, because we’ve can get all this information. And through the computers. And even even though you’ve said yes, but there are a lot of people who don’t have full access to the technology and or don’t have the abilities or the skills possibly don’t, are not don’t have full literacy skills, and therefore can’t deal with that. Nevertheless, that must be a factor in the way that labour is changed and remain or don’t remain part of individualised and community lives, as seems to be more and more information is available online. I don’t know which one of you will?

Amina Shah  27:21

Well, I would say the one thing that I’ve noticed and no offence to you, you know, I respect you so much. But the the more privileged we become. And the older we become, the more not older actually, because life changes in various ways. I think it’s to do with privilege is quite easy, actually, when we think about what I benefited from libraries at that time, I needed libraries when I was a kid, but maybe I don’t need them anymore to think that nobody needs them anymore. But there are so many kids turning up to book bugs in every library across there’s so many people of all ages, and arriving, needing that kind of support that space, those areas, the books, quite literally we’re you know, we’re in a cost of living crisis. If you’re a parent, it’s quite you can go to a library and see, take what you want, have a feast from all these books on the shelves, it’s somewhere you can go that doesn’t cost money. If you’re new, if you’re newly arrived in a country, where do you get information? If you’ve just come out of prison? Where do you go to find your your pathway and have a positive network, I think all of those things. And it’s easy when you aren’t a user are suppose to margin that they’re not needed as much. But you only have to open the doors. And maybe you didn’t you could maybe say something about the research, but of any library to see that there are jam packed full of people who need those services. And also, I know myself that my mom, for example, she’s visually impaired, and she gets so many audiobooks online from the library, where she that’s what she spends her day listening to audiobooks because she can’t read No, she wouldn’t be able to afford those, because they’re so expensive to purchase. So they’re, you know, I think that as well as the fact that libraries have diversified to be involved in lots of other things, parts of information. And information is diversified in itself, like you need to have. You need to go online in the same way that you needed to have access to the newspaper which libraries used to provide before and warm, inclusive spaces that you’re allowed to be in, because you’re part of that community and no one’s going to check you out. That’s important as well.

Dr James Robertson  29:38

Yeah. And the point about newspapers, I mean, yeah, all public labourers used to have the newspapers, there are a variety, usually the local paper and a couple of other national papers and weekly magazines that anybody could go in and just read there. And that’s where you would go for example, if you’re trying to look for a job, but that’s changed. But you still but people are Going into libraries because they then need to get the technical technological access if they’re looking for jobs. Is that something that you found in the research as well?

Éadaoín Lynch  30:07

100%? Yeah, I would say that one in three librarians were reporting back that they do provide employability resources. So there is still quite a huge amount of people who are relying on the library and the librarians, in particular, for job applications, because so much of what our modern society is now doing is, is running counsel services, online, job applications, or online access to any of that information has to happen online. And I actually want to share a piece of feedback that we got from one of our librarians speaking about this exact issue of digital inclusion, who said to us, Wi Fi is available outside the building. And we often have people hanging around there, when the library is closed, there is a space that is covered, and I’m arranging to get a bench put there. So at least they have a seat to access the Wi Fi anytime they need, rather than crouching on the concrete. And I think that gives you a very real sense of how much of a utility it is to have that access. And in terms of learning opportunities, and how that relates, you know, we have so many examples of, of what libraries are doing for further education and learning opportunities across the board. We have over 60% of librarians reporting that their libraries are helping to close the poverty related attainment gap by providing extra resources for pupils who maybe don’t have school libraries, because they were stripped or maybe the schools have closed, and they don’t have somewhere else to go by the time their parents finished work. And the libraries that are open are filling that need. So yeah, absolutely, yeah.

31:36

And things do evolve. And I think our library libraries, and our librarians are champions of evolving with the times I think they have changed a lot over the 20 years. And they’ve done that really with great innovations. And you will see your wenden main topics, you’ll see film clubs, you’ll see book bugs going on. But throughout that you’ll hear the same words, you’ll hear things like access, you’ll feel safe, and you’ll hear a trusted and these enduring values of what libraries afford never change. And that worries me as well, when when you know, we’ve heard that before with counsellors might say, why don’t use it anymore, I get the internet, it can be quite a selfish view to take. And we often have to counter that and say, well, there’s millions of people that do need it. So just because you don’t, you do need to think about the people that are paying council tax, who absolutely rely on them. And the more we use a stat quit our apologies, but they have more visits than Scottish Premier League football. i Oh, no, in fact, all Scottish tourism. So So you know, the it’s very easy to counter the argument. Well, nobody’s using them anymore. And I think we’ve probably got to the point now where a lot of counsellors do understand that some of them there are saying yes, but there’s still a very difficult financial picture, and how do you keep everything going, and I can understand that I can empathise with that. But we can see laybys as part of a whole system approach, you finding libraries, you’re going to save money in a case you’re gonna save money in other areas. So if you look at it as as as a whole picture, then it can be easier to see how ideas fit into that rather than seeing them as vs this and vs that when it comes to funding,

33:14

I think that’s that I love that stat. But also, it just shows you the idea that these places are empty is and it just isn’t true. You know, they’re actually really busy. We’re, we’re always really busy. Whenever I’m down at the British Library, it’s absolutely mobbed

33:30

can’t get a desk to sit out. And it’s not just

Amina Shah  33:33

about need, people are going because they want to they want to be part of that as well. So I think a little bit there is a bit of a myth that there’s somehow empty vessels.

Dr James Robertson  33:45

Yeah. And I think also libraries haven’t refreshed to the reasons for people to go over the years. I mean, you know that we would be living through a period when there’s a book festivals happening everywhere. But usually labour is at the heart of the lot of the local book festivals that happen. They’re the ones that have driven that whole thing forward. They’ve driven forward the idea of book clubs. So that’s all about engaging people with books and reading, but also it brings them into the building itself and often, which is an important and that makes these people realise that they have that kind of hub there that then they may be discovered that does other things as well. But I want to come back to the issue of of the human touch as it were the librarians themselves because one of the things that is happening a lot, particularly in schools, is that the libraries are losing their librarians. And it seems to be that you can, you know, there’s a there’s a sort of, particularly not so much in Scotland, but I think in England, it’s happened a lot where local libraries have been closed, but then they’ve been people have been told, Well, you can you can keep them going if you set up a volunteer force to run them. But that’s it’s almost like saying, Well, you can run a hospital but you can’t have any doctor you can all put on a white coat and you You can volunteer to be doctors, it doesn’t really work like that. And I think there’s, there’s a serious loss of, of professional knowledge and information if you don’t actually keep librarians in like this. Again, I don’t know if your if your research is famous that people realise how important librarians are for libraries. Yeah, absolutely.

Éadaoín Lynch  35:19

It’s something that we we keep hearing back from librarians that I should also say in the research, I keep referring to librarians. But that does not simply mean qualified librarians that also encompasses library workers who are staffing more and more of our library services. I think possibly the best example I have of that exact question is, is another piece of feedback from a librarian talking about further learning. And it’s a bit of a longer quotation. So it’ll, it’ll take me about 30 seconds, but just bear with providing further learning is very important. But we don’t do it as we don’t have the resource. The people we see are the 30 to 40% of people who have zero digital skill, no email, no phone, sometimes no ID are unable to read. Let’s say, for example, a reformed character who was released from prison, we’re the first place that people come when they need help, possibly the only place in a landscape of shrinking services. When we are gone, than these other agencies will need to put the time Bill and the mental health crisis, we are reversing the prison guy, we helped him get an email, as he had an email, he was able to apply online for funding. He ate that weekend and had lackey he comes to job club now. Often we hear about pathways, direction signposts, etc. What are libraries if not a waystation, a levelling up factory that sends people in the positive direction. I think that’s maybe the best example I can give the difference between a library as a space and access to information and the librarians who really stand there and take on every single person who walks through the doors, regardless of what their question or their challenges. And obviously, you know, this is a librarian going above and beyond. But still, that’s that’s such an immediate impact and such an obvious difference for what librarians themselves are doing.

Sean McNamara  37:05

That’s the false economy over because that person may end up back in prison if they don’t get that support. And then that’s going to cost the state money in a different way. And, you know, there’s lots of studies which show that for spending x and laybys can, you know, can be six or seven fold return on on that, that money because of the money saved on other services. And it’s, it’s not, you know, we don’t always want to talk in economic terms, it’s not always comfortable to do that. And, but you know, when those times when you hear those stories, you can see it in real life, what it means to a person and the journey that they make and the support they get from the labour.

Amina Shah  37:41

And I just pick up on something that Shawn said, there, I think is really important when you say we don’t want to talk in economical terms. And I think that over the past two or three decades, there’s been a real shift towards everything in society having to be demonstrated to have some sort of financial, you know, everything to work out, how much does it cost and using numbers to analyse everything. There’s something in this that you can’t actually explain about numbers. And so for example, you might see 500 People at an event and that might have an impact on people. Or you might actually change the life of one person that has a huge impact and matters a lot, how could you possibly measure the time spent on that person or the how that works. And I and you see this all the time, where not just libraries, but other public services are being sort of forced into a kind of explanation for our existence, it doesn’t actually work. And I think that we really do need to work to find another way. And I know that many half, you know, we need to keep on doing this is to find another way to explain and describe the impacts and moving away from that, because in many times, they can be circular as well. So a library errors get cut, and then they have less visitors. And then they say, oh, nobody’s going anymore. Yes. And then it goes into another spiral.

Dr James Robertson  39:09

And you also you can’t You’re right, you can’t actually put it up can’t put a specific place on when a person goes into a library and finds a book, or has a has a really positive reaction to a book. But that may not actually show through in something that you can actually pinpoint and say that that’s what caused that for years sometimes. Exactly. So you’re right. So we’re trying to get a difference between kind of hardline price accounting and and putting a value on things which goes back to I think, to the Carnegie, the Andrew Carnegie quote, but but we need to stay on this a little bit longer. That sort of financial costs because inevitably in the world we live in at the moment when local authorities are being asked to make cuts their services are in decline as well, on the festival, one of the very first places that gets hit because it’s seen as a soft target is what is now called cultural and leisure. And labour. These are usually in amongst cultural and leisure. So, here’s another question which you may or may not want to answer or may not know how to answer. But are we actually at a place where we need to think hard about whether local authorities are the right, kind of the right people or the right institutions to deliver a really good library service rate across an entire country? Or should we be thinking about another model that does it in a different way? But perhaps does it better preserving all the things that we’ve said, are good event libraries, but making them more universal across a wider section of society? I don’t know.

Sean McNamara  40:49

Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s hard, it’s hard dance would be a different solution, because there is a fantastic value in local authorities planning their local IP services, because they know their communities. But what is clear is that the current financial model isn’t working, that definitely isn’t working. And that’s also not working for museums and health services and education. It’s not like these are in isolation, they are often disproportionately, as maybe a bigger picture, they are around how we fund our local services, how much we value our local services. And, you know, and other countries in the world, not not everywhere, but you know, in some countries, you know, they’re as well funded new libraries being built regularly. And they’re well used because they’ve well resourced, and that’s about what’s in Paisley, the orphan the new central library, there’s so many people have joined, the stats have gone through the roof, and that’s the shoulders you the value if you do invest, but we’ve lost that willingness to invest, it’s almost seen as well, we just can’t we don’t want to look long term and how we invest in public services. It’s all just short termism. It’s just get to the next election or it’s going to be bad news. Again, we we’ve got to get out of that cycle. I’m not an economist, I wouldn’t be able to answer exactly how we get out that but there are other countries that do it. And we have to move somehow towards a better model. And whether that’s a change in how we deliver services across Scotland, I’m not sure. But they all need more money. And the only thing more and more support. And I think we have to start not just surviving year to year, let’s get by this next year. Let’s hope that libraries have survived. And we’ll get on with it. And we’ll do three things. We need a longer term vision. And we do have, we have a strategy for public libraries in Scotland. And these things are great. But we need politicians also not just to back them, but actually to have that long term vision for our public services.

Éadaoín Lynch  42:41

Yeah, to pick up on on the question of putting a number on what the library search service is worth. And in financial terms, it reminded me there’s actually a research report that was put out by libraries connected in England based on a study that they did in East Anglia, where they put together I mean, to paraphrase it massively. They put a number to it, they put a lot of numbers to what library services are worth financially to that society to that community, whether it be for their education, whether it be literacy. And the report is quite exhaustive, if you want to get into the details of it. But what it comes out to is that they estimated a national value of library services of 3.4 billion pounds. And reading through it myself, I felt I felt like that was that was low balling it. Because like you’ve pointed out, there’s so many things that are not quantifiable. And this is an estimate based on the very surface level sort of approximations that they could make for these much more qualitative impacts. As for the actual model of the library service, I have to say, as somebody who grew up in Ireland, where there’s a very different service, and it’s running a national library model, I still have my library card. And I still go back. It feels very different. You know, I was visiting recently, and sharing this project with with my family who were kind of shocked to hear that it was it was so different in a country that’s so nearby. And it kind of reminded me like, oh, yeah, it doesn’t have to be like this. There are other options.

Amina Shah  44:12

I think it’s definitely true that there are other options. And we know that from across the world, that there are lots of different models and the way things are run. And I agree that whatever is happening, isn’t really working particularly well for anyone at the moment. So it might be useful for us to have a conversation about that. But also that libraries do sit in the hearts of their communities. And as much as I kind of roll my eyes when the DL sorry, Rowley and the VL will try and tell us you know, you know exactly, exactly when things when people try and sort of advise you think well wait a minute, you’re you know, we know vocally better what to do. I think that people in Orkney would say the same about how would that work, you know, in terms of making sure that the strength and local democracy and local people is there. But I do think perhaps we should be thinking, having that conversation and thinking about this because as you say, Dean, there are other ways. And there could be ways that we haven’t thought of yet. But another thing is just thinking back to Carnegie, around philanthropy, and where are the philanthropists of today that are like him? I mean, in fact, he, he did give us all these things, he gifted all these things. And that’s something that we try very hard to do at the National Library. And we’re involved in lots of libraries are also getting benefit from various funding sources and trusts and foundations. But is there a way of us thinking about that differently? I just wish that there was another Carnegie that would come along.

Sean McNamara  45:51

Yeah, no, absolutely. And then tracing the, you know, like Ira today being being saved, partly through through philanthropy, through it through a donation. And I think that’s quite quite interesting. And then, you know, even going back to the history of public libraries, when they were first established, a lot of councils didn’t take them up. They weren’t keen on them. And it wasn’t really until Carnegie was building a lot of those libraries that then there is the possibility. So there has always been a concern about how they’re funded and that philanthropy really energised that one point, I think, yes, we are, you know, we as a we have about the ethical would be another, you know, there is there is there is an interest.

Dr James Robertson  46:32

Carnegie, obviously, he funded the building of the buildings, but this then still had to be run. And librarians had to be in place and so on. And after died, it wasn’t they weren’t can

Sean McNamara  46:44

continue to support it, no, then they went on.

Dr James Robertson  46:47

The Public Library is actually in the 1950s. I think, when they came in, you’re right, because there were relatively few people paying rates, they were pretty upset about the idea that you would actually spend money on enabling people, particularly working class people to actually get into into access of free free literature, free books, etc. So that’s been an ongoing issue for you a couple of 100 years, really, we’re going to open the beta to questions from the floor as Oprah’s got any. So let’s, we’ll do that in just a second. So if you have got something you want to ask, then there’ll be a ruling mic or a couple of roving mics going, right? So if you want to ask something, and a couple of minutes are going to put your hand up. But just before we do that, can I just ask one last question of last my credibly important cheat here? Yeah. This there’s a question here that I wanted to ask. Could you say something all of you just briefly about how libraries are having an impact on the on some of the really key issues of today, and I’m talking about things like you touched on actually, um, you know, about censorship and, you know, retaining people’s ability to have free conversations without being shut down or shouted down, like this usually have a quite a big role in making sure that that kind of those kinds of really huge issues that we’re facing today are kept in the public domain, but also the libraries, do something to support, what we can buy what we said at the beginning, you know, the democratisation of the democracy, of living in a civilised society, I suppose. You want to say something?

Amina Shah  48:38

Yeah, definitely. I mean, we see from colleagues, particularly in America at the moment, that this is a really an issue that they’re grappling with, and no uncertain terms. That’s actually another thing that’s an issue with volunteer libraries, is that quite often what’s happening in America is volunteers are volunteering in the school library and then deciding on what they think which books they think, and, and it’s something that we need to and lots of institutions, I think airflow have recently released a which is the International Federation for Library Association’s a freedom of expression statement, because without access, free access to publishing, writing, reading, and, you know, we democracy is at peril, and that is a role that libraries, definitely playing but not just about, about that. But as I said earlier, there’s also the issue about truth and facts and people being able to find reliable sources of information and in a world at the moment where AI is increasing rate, you know, that’s, that’s perplexing to people that’s becoming really, really important as well. So those issues, I think, the issues of the day are really important, as I said before that the idea that we’re a divided in society, and that we can come together through community, and through spaces that allow us to do that, and I think is also and connection is also critical. And for example thing to discuss things like climate change, or you know, to, to be able to look at resources of the past and to bring researchers and other people together, you know, all of those, all those sorts of things are really important. And for young people, I mean, you mentioned that libraries meant a lot to you, as a child think all of us have a story about that most of us. But what will young people do without that kind of network? Because it offers them a freedom, and independence, I remember going up to the library and bruntsfield When I was a kid, and it was something you did on your own, you walked up on your own, you got a bag of sweets, and then you just looked at things on your own. And that’s that that sense of independence and drive is really important. And for people once you got there as well, exactly, exactly. So I think that, that, you know, these libraries are absolutely critical to many of these debates. But you’re right about the censorship issue, which is really current, and we can see it almost coming over the horizon towards us from the from other countries.

Sean McNamara  51:18

Yeah, and I think the one of the things that we are trying to support our librarians with is how to underpin what they do with the ethics and values of what they do. So they have the skills because it’s difficult, though, they may have been working in a library for a long time. But if they’re faced with, you know, a mob mentality around censorship, it’s very, very difficult if it’s on them, and one of our board members. Our next president actually didn’t remind me that a report recently called called reveal, which is all about helping our incredible librarians with ethics and values, because it’s so important, because that’s what is at our core, whether it be censorship, misinformation, AI, all of this has to be tackled with ethics and, and and, and with people that have expertise in being trustworthy, and navigating.

Dr James Robertson  52:08

Shall we see if anybody wants to join the debate or conversation from the floor? Has anybody got a question that would like to ask is this one hand up here? And there’s another one down here could ask you if you do if you’ve got a question to keep it relatively short, or if you’ve got a comment, official liberal, and we’ll get more questions. And thank you.

Audience member  52:28

Following on from the AIcomment. Should the debate be engaged with the industrial and commercial sectors? Because they used to employ librarians? A lot of enlightened employers use a volume of information, wanted to help with it. And that area is often neglected?

Amina Shah  52:49

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’m sure that you do have members who work in Yeah,

Sean McNamara  52:54

I mean, yeah, I mean, organisations in the in the private, corporate, or other sectors. A lot of them if they’ve, if they know what they’re doing. They’re employing skilled information professionals, just knowing we do have a lot of people working in those sectors and providing an incredible resource, whether that be for how to manage data and use that effectively how to navigate with with AI in a trustworthy and ethical way. But if you don’t have that, then who is in charge of that it will be at departments, there’ll be other departments who may have a really important skill set. But do they understand the ethical implications of things like AI. And so we certainly would encourage any any of these industry bodies to try and make sure they have information professionals that at the core, certainly a lot of people coming into librarianship just because as we’ve said, there is lack of, of opportunities, maybe in the public sector, because things are thinking a lot are going into these industries and building a really fascinating library career through them. But I think we need as many as possible in these areas. Absolutely. Thank you.

Dr James Robertson  53:57

Thank you, somebody coming to you just to say.

Audience member  54:03

Thank you. I was just going to say you’ve put up such a good case. I can almost not see what the other side of the case. If it is purely economic, what are you doing looking at income generation? Basically, I think that lady was getting at something on the industrial side. Is it a priority? Is it part of the library strategy, that you said there’s a national library started? Is it about income generation? I mean, you have all these fabulous buildings for a start, you know, there must be something can be done about that. Or is that against the principle of free libraries?

Amina Shah  54:39

I think I maybe just if you don’t mind, James, just respond to that on behalf of the National Library. So that’s what was touching on around philanthropy. So there’s an out not that I for one minute and philanthropists who say they don’t want to let the government renege on their responsibilities to pay for services, but there’s opportunities around that but there There are also opportunities, I think you’re right of us thinking about income generation where we can, and, and certainly, we at the National Library are thinking around around those lines. And you know, we are very committed that services should be free and open to everybody. But there are other things that we can think about. And we need to think creatively, because you see other people doing it making money out of library services, for example, genealogy or, you know, various other things. So I think we do need to think, commercially and entrepreneurially. And think differently, what is difficult for unshown. And Nadine could speak better on this for for public libraries, or schools or whatever it is, when they start to make if they were successful in making money, you see that in leisure trusts, for example, often that the money then is taken, the core funding gets removed. So that and that becomes more and more difficult. And that’s what happened in COVID, when many were making money from money that came in from the swimming pools, for example, suddenly didn’t have that money. So I think that there’s there are difficulties. But you’re right to say that we should be looking at those opportunities. And we are, we are.

Sean McNamara  56:16

it’s a tricky thing, because it means libraries are a public service, and they shouldn’t be provided by the council and council tax should cover that. And, and there shouldn’t be too much of a focus on income generation. And certainly, you know, libraries in Scotland are mostly fine for you. So there isn’t, there isn’t really that use of bringing in money. But we do have to have a conversation about how we can find other sources to fund them. Whether we should never be charging anyone, any of the users coming in for anything other than very minimal things. But ideally, nothing. I mean, it should be free, a point of use for the user. But yeah, as I said, there may be need to creatively but other financial services

Dr James Robertson  56:53

sector was a great example. I’m trying to remember where it was that I came across an event in a library and to the north of Glasgow, and they had just a local man had just given them a huge amount of money to build the new public library. But it was because and if they just opened it in a private, it’s brilliant, but he insisted that it was He provided the money for the building, and then they would have to run it as part of the public labour resource. And it’s some I can’t remember. It’s not no Gaius. Exactly. And it says, I haven’t haven’t been to see this labour yet. But it’s a brilliant example of how actually you can use philanthropy to bolster the public service and not to undermine it, which is great. We’ve got a question here.

Audience member  57:43

You’ve all very clearly outlined the important role that librarians have in continuing to offer the range of services that we’ve all benefited from over the years, but as a public sector service, looking at the other ones, education, health, policing, etc. There are significant difficulties around recruitment, training and retention. How does that currently apply within library services? And is that something that you see as part of a requirement for the national strategy?

Sean McNamara  58:17

Yeah, I think you know, there has possibly since a pandemic, sometimes that there can be I think what we find is that the way b schools that we have the become a qualified librarian, are filled, they’re busy. There’s lots of people coming through. Obviously, not everyone can afford to attend university. So I do think we need more routes into the profession more entry routes, and England they have apprenticeships and libraries, but then we don’t have that here. And I think if there was more entry routes for people to get in, at the Cannes library assistant level and move up. Certainly, there’s lots of jobs in libraries, there are a lot of vacancies, I think people are there was a spell after COVID Other people would be able to be better than me. That areas, it was harder to fill them. I think that’s maybe alleviated a bit now, we are an ageing profession, to some extent, in terms of the demographics, there’s less people coming in, that are retiring. And that’s something we’re working on. And that’s starting to balance out more than going the other way, which is good. But it is definitely something we need to think about to make sure that there is that this this continued funnel of new people with new ideas and new skills to come into the sector.

Éadaoín Lynch  59:26

And follow on from that, Shawn, a lot of the research that I’ve been conducting for Scottish Book Trust has been in conversation with librarians, and asking them what their experiences in these various specific themes. But a lot of their feedback has also been centering on their experience of being dedicated public servants and knowing that their roles are becoming rarer, that their hearing of colleagues who are retiring and not being replaced that those you know Stranglehold is is being enacted on those services. And this actually, this conversation has reminded me of another piece of feedback that I’ll share from a law variants ain’t no offence to national strategies. But sadly, talk is cheap. And visions and strategies are all very well. But they require the investment and ring fenced funding for our children’s futures and their children’s futures, that those making such decisions seem singularly unwilling or else unable to provide. And I mean, that’s what the research is really pointing towards is that librarians are vital, and they are covering so many bases, and they are bridging so many gaps. And they are not resourced enough.

Dr James Robertson  1:00:28

Just to say before anybody asked me a question from who’s listening in online? Yeah.

Audience member  1:00:35

So we’ve got a question saying, Have there been any studies of the effects of library closures on communities?

Éadaoín Lynch  1:00:41

An excellent question. I know that that’s something that I was looking into, before we picked the specific emphasis on value and impact of libraries as they are now. The problem in trying to establish impact of libraries that have been closed is that it’s difficult to know who to ask because the communities are not available. Because there’s no other space like the library, there’s no other free space, there’s no other space with access to that kind of information. And so it’s difficult to know who to go to to ask those questions, it’s difficult to find the librarians who’ve lost their jobs. It’s sort of trying to get information where the information has literally been erased. So if there are any studies, I would love to read them. But that is the reason that unfortunately, we couldn’t conduct it.

Dr James Robertson  1:01:29

Anything else from online? This mammoth?

Audience member  1:01:37

Hi, so I’ve just finished them travelling around Europe, and I visited a lot of libraries. My question is, why is this happening in the UK? Because it doesn’t seem to be happening elsewhere. So the Nordic libraries Scandinavia, amazing. But even if you go to poor countries, GDP, PPP, whichever, the Baltic nations, they still got very good libraries. So why is Britain one of the g7 or rich, yada, yada, yada, unable to afford to maintain libraries? Riga has a national library that makes this place so tiny, but that’s a national pride thing.

Amina Shah  1:02:18

It’s such a good question. And one, I asked myself all the time when I go and see other libraries. And that’s what I was saying at the beginning about, you know, you do start to wonder whether it’s actually a purposeful thing, because it’s so obvious that that’s what people do. There was a journalist actually who’d been in Finland and being an OD E, I don’t know if that’s a library that you’ve been to. And then she came here and wrote an article in the Times about how shabby our reading rooms were. And I wanted to say to her, I tell the government, in fact, I told them to do and I had a meeting as I push it in every time, by the way, you know, we need investment. It’s embarrassing that, you know, people expect our libraries to be better. Plus, when you have investment, when you’ve got beautiful libraries, people go to them, as Sean was saying about the new Paisley one. I mean, that’s incredible. See that people want lovely designs, they don’t want to go into somewhere, that’s the back of your mind that they can’t get in. And it’s called, and it’s shabby. And it’s sort of a good facilities. And so many other nations have recognised that it does seem remarkable, that we’re questioning it. And, and as I say, when I see the investment the private schools make in school libraries, you see that it’s again, it’s not a misunderstanding of what the opportunity is. It’s just a lack of willingness to do it.

Sean McNamara  1:03:43

Yeah, I think partly, it’s its ideology. And also, we’re a country that, quite traditionally is, has a UK where he has a media and government who are not very welcoming to promoting the benefits of taxes being you know, and any kind of tax raise to sport public services is very much turned on. And the media has a very negative thing, rather than ever reflecting or having a conversation about and a lot of the countries you mentioned, they will have more money going into the public services through through through raising money like that. But that’s not the entire answer, but that that will play a part in some countries.

Dr James Robertson  1:04:19

We’re gonna have to wrap up in just a minute. But I just wanted to throw in that a point you made about the quality of building and the look of buildings. One of the things and I don’t mean to keep harping on about Andrew Carnegie, when you come to a city like Dundee, for example. Some of the Carnegie funded libraries, there are like palaces that incredible, but they’re open to anybody to walk through those doors. And I think you’re right, there’s a sort of, there’s a sort of vision, vision vision thing there that we’ve somehow somehow lost sight of, if you can lose sight of the vision that actually if you make these places, really special, important places for people to go to they will go to them and they’ll go back to them again and gain, and they’ll, they’ll become a really essential part of their lives. So I think that I do agree with you. I think that’s a really fascinating question. And it’s really one that needs to be explored a bit more.

Amina Shah  1:05:09

Yeah, palaces for the people.

Dr James Robertson  1:05:12

Well, I remember also, again, just coming to an event here not too long ago, where this was described as the repository of the memories of the nation. And that’s a really interesting way of putting it as well, because it turns it into something much more than a building with, with shelves full of books, it turns it into something that anybody can relate to. This is where you go, if you want to go and look to remember things that have been forgotten, or to find out things that you didn’t know, at all. And maybe we need to think a bit more broadly about how we sell that idea. And I don’t mean set over the price tag or how we get people reengaged with the real benefits of of proper public services. And you know, which, for a long time, I think this country did really, really well. We’ve got one more time for one last question.

Audience member  1:06:09

You’re talking about the memory of a people memory of a kind of a community archives have a very, very similar function, they are not treated as a leisure thing, because they have a legal requirement to take in the papers of the local council of the other authorities, say of the health service, things like that. And I worked in Cambridgeshire archives for a number of years, and they had everything from small local business archives to Papworth hospital. So but libraries, how can libraries and archives feed each other, they are separately funded, they’re regarded as separate niches. But they should be able to work together. And I think both would benefit.

Amina Shah  1:07:10

it’s really interesting, actually, the National Library of Canada is merged with the archives, the National Archives of Canada and the public library. And it’s in Ottawa. And all these things are together in the one building. And I think you’re right, I mean, the store, sometimes you will find the national records of Scotland have the the records and we’ve got the stories, we’ve got the the other things that add on that memory. So there are lots of connections, although they’re different disciplines in itself, but I think it’s a good point.

Dr James Robertson

1:07:44 Thank you. I think we are going to have to wrap up now we’ve actually gone over time a wee bit. But I hope that that has been a useful and interesting event for you. Thank you very much for coming. I think Am I right in saying that this has been will be recorded. And so I think if you go to the roadside vendors website in due course, this will be available to watch again online. And remember also the our RSE investigates events happening through the rest of of this year. So again, if you visit the Royal Society of Edinburgh website, you’ll be able to get information about what else is coming up in the coming months. But it just remains for me to thank you all for coming and to ask you to join in thanking our