‘Anxiety’ over council library providers as powerful monetary selections lie forward

Research carried out throughout the pandemic has highlighted “anxieties” amongst library managers over how native authorities view the difficulty of statutory provision, with some warning that it’s seen to “mean nothing” or “doesn’t carry any weight” amongst council resolution makers.

Under the Public Libraries Consolidation (Scotland) Act, as amended in schedule 21 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, native authorities have a statutory obligation to offer “adequate library facilities” for all residents of their space.

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Crucially, nevertheless, the query of what constitutes an enough service will not be specified. As a consequence, some councils and arms-length exterior organisations (ALEOs) have moved to impose their very own interpretations.

Only final summer season, Glasgow Life confronted an indignant backlash after suggesting the supply of a web based service would “suffice”, and that there was no definition as to the “scale and range” of the library providers it ought to present.

While neither it nor some other native authority or cultural belief has proposed such drastic cuts, the monetary actuality of the Scottish Government’s spending evaluate quantities to a real-terms minimize for native authorities, that means that troublesome selections lie forward.

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There are issues over how some native authorities regard their statutory duties round library providers. Picture: Getty

As issues stand, a complete of 83 public libraries have closed in Scotland since 2009/10, with spending on libraries shrinking by 30 per cent over the identical interval, even supposing yearly customer numbers – made up of in-person lenders and people utilizing digital libraries – elevated by over 40 per cent.

The fears of additional cuts to come back have been exacerbated by the influence of coronavirus. Even as Scotland continues its journey out of the pandemic, library service provision stays considerably down on what was supplied previous to Covid-19.

An Audit Scotland report revealed final month discovered that throughout 27 of the nation’s 32 native authorities areas, opening hours have been down on the finish of February 2022 in comparison with pre-pandemic ranges.

The discount in hours is especially acute in some areas. In Dumfries and Galloway, for instance, the decline stands at 58 per cent.

Peter Reid, professor of librarianship at Robert Gordon University. PIcture: Contributed

Since the requirement for councils to offer an “adequate” service got here into legislation, it has been codified in numerous methods.

During the Nineteen Eighties and Nineteen Nineties, COSLA put normal steerage in place to assist councils interpret their duties, starting from opening hours and staffing ranges, by way of to inventory additions. They have been later outdated by what was often known as the general public library high quality enchancment matrix.

Nowadays, an agreed framework is in place which places meat on the bones of the statute books. The How Good Is Our Library Service (HGIOPLS) framework notes that “an adequate service is delivered through a planned strategic network of public libraries reflecting core functions”.

Those features embody free, common entry to hardcopy and digital sources, neighborhood involvement, and the promotion of social justice, civic engagement and democracy.

Peter Reid, professor of librarianship at Robert Gordon University, drew up the framework alongside his colleague, Caroline Whitehead.

He mentioned that whereas the shortage of an common understanding of what’s meant by enough was troublesome, a slender definition would current issues of its personal.

“It’s incredibly vague in the legislation, and in some respects, that’s often perceived outside of the sector as a handicap, but within the sector, you’ve got to remember there are 32 different local authorities running 32 different library services,” he instructed Scotland on Sunday.

“If you define ‘adequate’ prescriptively, what would pass in Glasgow or Dumfries is not necessarily what would pass in Shetland or Clackmannanshire.

“So on the one hand, ‘adequate’ seems very vague and unhelpful. On the other, it allows local authorities considerable latitude in terms of how they best serve their communities.”

How councils do that’s usually a supply of unease and stress. Last yr, Prof Reid co-authored a research into the response of councils when it got here to library provision throughout the pandemic. The report, Libraries in Lockdown, highlighted “disturbing” views held by a number of native authority library managers about how the statutory designation of the service was perceived.

One interviewee mentioned: “The statutory argument doesn’t carry any weight. Horrendous things have happened, and the fact it is a statutory service doesn’t seem to matter.”

Another mentioned: “Statutory means nothing here. They say that we could have one library open for one hour a week, and we’d fulfil the statutory duty.”

Prof Reid mentioned such viewpoints, albeit from a small minority, demonstrated the necessity to keep advocacy and robust help of each the statutory requirement, and what “adequate provision” entails.

Sean McNamara, head of the the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland (CILIPS), mentioned the way in which councils interpret the that means of enough “says a lot about how they value the communities they serve”.

He defined: “For us, adequate means a service that meets community needs – that means local, well resourced financially, and with stock, IT, and staff. These things allow libraries to provide access, improve wellbeing, and reduce social isolation.

“We will always make the case that what defines adequate can only be decided by communities themselves, and if there are any changes to be made, there has to be a detailed community consultation.”

While there have been threats of judicial evaluations within the wake of some library cuts lately, no authorized problem of the statutory obligation has ever been dropped at a Scottish courtroom.

Mr McNamara believes that’s testomony to the “huge public pressure” led to by communities.

“Whilst a clearer direction with the legislation would be wonderful, we realise that is very challenging,” he added. “We are content to continue advocating, and ensure local authorities realise the different libraries make to communities.”

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