THE abolition of fines in all Scotland’s libraries is being pushed as part of a move to make them the heart of a pandemic recovery.
It comes as fears grow that the pressure on councils to tighten their purse strings will put public and school libraries at risk.
New figures show that one in eight of Scotland’s public libraries have still not re-opened as the pandemic lockdown has eased.
The Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC), the independent advisory body to the Scottish Government on library matters has suggested removing financial penalties to borrowers as part of a new five-year strategy.
SLIC says it is part of their plan to make libraries “accessible to all”.
Critics of the fine system say it is an old-fashioned technique that gives off a ‘Victorian punishing message’ which is out of step with more modern open access and welcoming libraries.
SLIC is pushing the importance of libraries saying that the health and wellbeing offered by them is estimated to bring a cost saving to NHS Scotland of £3.2 million each year.
The SLIC strategy aims to make libraries more relevant and also focuses on greater provision of digital services, the need for which was accelerated by the pandemic. That includes having one digital portal for all Scotland’s libraries.
Among new services offered during the pandemic was a ‘click and collect’ book service – which SLIC said should now become a “core service”.
Around a third of public library services in Scotland do not charge for late returns.
And Pamela Tulloch, chief executive of SLIC said experience has shown that more people use libraries when fines are removed.
“Financial penalties (library fines) are a barrier to encouraging people to use libraries – especially those from low income households,” she said.
“There is a global movement within the public library sector to eradicate fines.
“Most recently Los Angeles County libraries followed Chicago libraries and removed fines. It is widely recognised that the cost of administering library fines outweighs the revenue collected, and so the process should be more widely adopted – research shows that removing fines increases participation.”
SLIC say many public libraries in Scotland are operating reduced hours or are still closed four months after they were allowed to reopen.
Their figures show there is still no reopening information for 61 of the country’s 481 public libraries with the relaxation of the Covid lockdown.
Galashiels Library, in the Borders, reopened this month having been shut since the first lockdown.
It comes as concerns grown about the threat to libraries as a result in cuts to public spending.
In 2016/17 there were 558 library service points open to the public, and in 2019/20 that had dropped to 530.
Fife Council closed 15 libraries in this time, and some library services reduced their mobile library provision.
Three weeks ago hundreds attended a Glasgow march, organised by activist group Communities Unite Against Closures, calling for services, including libraries, museums and sports facilities, to be reopened to the community, with several facing threat of indefinite closure.
Banners saying Save Whiteinch Library, Don’t Axe Our Venues and Friends of People’s Palace could be seen among others at the march that started at Cathedral Square and walked from the closed St Mungo Museum to the People’s Palace.
Ms Tulloch added: “These figures don’t tell the whole story when it comes to the enduring popularity of libraries. The number of people using libraries virtually has continued to increase in recent years and we expect this trend to continue, accelerated by the pandemic.”
Sean McNamara, from the librarians professional body CILIPS said: “Public libraries are vital in reducing inequality and take active steps around this including supporting local community groups, running job clubs, providing access to computers and removing fines.
“Libraries should be accessible and welcoming for everyone and anything which reduces or removes barriers should be welcomed if it is sustainable for that service.”
He said library funding must be protected locally and nationally to restore a full library service to every Scottish community.
“It is now essential that both national and local government work together so the correct funding is put in place to ensure libraries can provide access to reading and IT, reduce inequality and digital exclusion, and support communities to reconnect and recover economically following the pandemic.
“Libraries have over 40 million visits per year and Scotland’s public libraries are the most popular service local government provides and it would be an act of folly to forget this.
“However, several key libraries are still to re-open and many others are facing further budget, staffing or opening hours cuts, compounding the significant damage done during austerity. It is now essential that libraries and their skilled staff are recognised for their unique place in communities and their long term cost saving benefits so this new strategy can have the impact it should.”