A professional body for librarians has written to East Dunbartonshire Council criticising plans to close three public libraries in the authority area.
Sean McNamara, acting director of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland, wrote to council leaders Andrew Polson and Vaughan Moody after proposals to close libraries in Milton of Campsie, Lennoxtown and Westerton in Bearsden were revealed.
He said: “We understand that this is only a recommendation at this stage, but I would like to raise our concerns and urge you not to take this option forward.
“We believe this may affect the local community’s ability to access an adequate public library service as required by the Local Government Act.
“Libraries are visited by more people than attend the cinema and professional football matches and offer an incredible return on investment.”
“A public library service makes an important contribution to national outcomes such as reducing inequality and improving literacy as well as providing a positive experience for local people and demonstrating the value a local authority places on its community.
“Libraries tackle social isolation and support mental health and well-being as evidenced by the Scottish Government. Libraries also play a key role in supporting the current digital strategies in Scotland and across the UK by providing free access for people unable to get online at home.
“Evidence from Carnegie UK shows that online access delivers substantial social and economic benefits to citizens and communities including improved educational attainment; better job prospects; better access to public services; cheaper goods and products; access to advice, information and knowledge; improved communication with family and friends; and enhanced democratic and civic participation.
“Libraries are also vital to improving literacy in Scotland. Studies have shown that around a quarter of Scotland’s adults have issues with literacy and libraries tackle this by providing adult learning and promoting access to reading at a community level.
“We believe these closures would severely damage the ability to meet community needs and this may also disadvantage vulnerable groups. We would strongly suggest that an equalities impact assessment should be carried out if has not been already. ”
Mr McNamara closed his letter with a series of questions for the council to answer. The Institute wants the council to explain its financial justification for shutting 40 per cent of its library provision, usage statistics for the threatened libraries compared to others in the area, to confirm any public consultation and if the impact of these closures has been assessed.
East Dunbartonshire Leisure Trust is a council-owned organisation, which operates cultural services including libraries. Its board voted to close the three village libraries as part of cost-saving efforts across the authority area.
Councillor Susan Murray (LibDem, Kirkintilloch East and North and Twechar) is a member of the trust’s board and voted in favour of the library closures.
She recently told the Kirkintilloch Herald: “When ‘every penny counts’ and funding is shrinking, EDLC has to listen to their customers and give value for money. This has resulted in a big investment in East Dunbartonshire Libraries and has changed how the service is delivered in modern, flexible surroundings linked to the council hubs.
“More people, of all ages and backgrounds, are choosing these libraries and this safeguards the future of library services.
“The smaller libraries are not so well used. They have not been deliberately ‘run down’ – their stock has been regularly changed and kept up to date.
“They are simply not able to deliver the level of service that most people want – and people are voting with their feet.”
Neil McGrory , Local Democracy Reporting Service