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COVID-19: ADVICE FOR STaff, STUDENTS AND COMMUNITY

Scottish libraries in lockdown

Professor Peter Reid
RGU Professor Peter Reid has been awarded funding to explore Scottish Public Libraries and their role in community cohesion and resilience during lockdown. In his latest community story, he writes about the current issues public libraries in Scotland are facing as they have been closed during the current Covid-19 pandemic.

For twenty years I have been interested in the role that public libraries play within their communities.  They are seen as highly trusted public spaces; playing a major role in supporting disadvantaged or socially-excluded members of the community, aiding wellbeing, developing literacy, supporting economic growth, as well as all the other social and cultural functions libraries habitually fulfil.  They have, of course, suffered during the period of austerity since 2009.  However, the situation in Scotland has generally been better than south of the Border and my interest and research has primarily been around Scotland’s public libraries. 

Back in 2013, I was commissioned to review the quality standards used here in Scotland for public libraries.  This eventually led us to be invited to create a new set of standards entitled How good is our public library service? which is in use across the country.  In 2016, we conducted a review into the ‘Every child a library member’ programme which resulted in the Scottish Government adopting some of the findings.  So, it was inevitable, that I would be interested in how public libraries across Scotland responded to the COVID19 lockdown and how they adapted their services to a digital only offering during that period.

In May of this year, I submitted a research proposal to Arts and Humanities Research Council, as part of UKRI’s COVID Response research theme and was delighted to be awarded funding to undertake a study into Scottish Public Libraries and their role in community cohesion and resilience during lockdown.  In ‘normal’ times public libraries are crucial community hubs but have, like other public spaces, been closed during the pandemic lockdown and are only now beginning to open in Scotland. 

This research will examine how public libraries have responded to the lockdown, how services were reimagined and reinvented in a digital-only space, and explore the impact on the services themselves and the end users. It will examine the creativity displayed, how staff autonomy is important in being innovative, and how different models of management may have influenced what has been done.  It will also seek to understand the difficulties such as those members of the community for whom online access is problematic or even impossible if unable to visit the library physically.

The lockdown has meant they have been compelled to adapt their offerings significantly and, often, creatively. Many have reported surges in the borrowing of e-books (e.g. Aberdeen), they have developed online book clubs (Glasgow et al), 3D printers creating PPE, or really imaginative online storytelling sessions (Shetland). 

I am really interested to see the creative things that have been done across the sector and we anticipate that the research will provide an opportunity to identify good practice (and, doubtless, less good practice too) and will offer learning across the sector for managers of public libraries services both in Scotland itself and, arguably, beyond as well.  The research will, in addition to recording what happened, also have the capacity to inform the development of future public library policy in Scotland as well as enhance our understanding of service delivery, models of governance and resilience.

“Our libraries are often the hub of a local community - providing access to information and resources that people would otherwise not have".  (Nicola Sturgeon, 2015)

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