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Public libraries in lockdown: the view from Scotland

Tuesday 28 July 2020

Professor Peter Reid
An RGU Professor has been awarded funding to explore Scottish Public Libraries and their role in community cohesion and resilience during lockdown.

Professor Peter Reid, of RGU’s School of Creative and Cultural Business, will look at the current issues public libraries in Scotland are facing as they have been closed during the current Covid-19 pandemic and are only beginning to open now.

The research project, entitled Public libraries in lockdown: the view from Scotland, has been awarded £16,000 from the (UK) Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Professor Reid will examine how public libraries have responded to the lockdown, how services were reinvented in a digital-only space, and explore the impact on the services themselves and the end users. The project 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.

He said: “In recent years, public libraries in Scotland have been strongly supported through Scottish Government initiatives on health, wellbeing and inclusion through the Public Library Improvement Fund.  Their services have been driven forward through a national strategy for their enhancement, Ambition and Opportunity, and by the creation of national quality standards, How good is our public library service?

“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. 

“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, some have developed online book clubs or are using their 3D printers to create PPE, or really imaginative online storytelling sessions, such as in Shetland.

“I wanted to look at the bigger role these libraries have in supporting community resilience throughout lockdown. Initially, the first stage will be desk-based research, and the second stage will involve working with the Scottish Library and Information Council (the Scottish government’s advisory agency for libraries) and the Association of Public Libraries (the body which brings together the heads of all public library services in Scotland) to collect data and evidence.”

Professor Reid concluded: “It is anticipated that this piece of research will identify good practice 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.”

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