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Fighting (and writing) for our right to adequate library access

As a writer, a reader, a librarian, a local resident and a lifelong library user, I was honoured to be invited to speak at today's rally outside Cambuslang Library in South Lanarkshire, joining concerned citizens of all ages and stages to protest against closures that, if implemented, would see over 16,000 people deprived of their legal right to adequate library access. My words are below - if you agree, please sign the petition!

‘Browse, borrow, request, renew - lovely words to me.

A library card in your hand is your democracy.’

These words and those on my sign are by Scotland’s fantastic former Makar, Jackie Kay, paying tribute to the power of public libraries as the beating hearts of our communities.

Without South Lanarkshire Libraries, I would not be a writer. Nor would I be a librarian. Like so many of you who have taken the time to join us today, these uniquely equitable spaces of access and opportunity, where social justice really is in with the bricks, have nurtured my literacy, learning and imagination since my earliest years, just as they did for generations of my family before me.

All we ask today, one clear, simple appeal, is for South Lanarkshire’s families of the future not to lose that moral and legal right.

Because be under no illusion - public library access is your right. By law, all local authorities in Scotland must secure the provision of adequate library facilities for all persons resident in their area. And yet if these closures go ahead, over 16,000 people will lose access to a library branch within a one-hour round trip. That fits with no definition of ‘adequate’ I’ve ever read. And trust me, I’m a librarian.

From lessening health inequalities by providing free prenatal vitamins, period products, hearing aid batteries and more, to embodying sustainability and resource sharing as our planet faces an increasingly acute climate crisis, and offering what is often the only non-clinical, non-commercial space left in a community, our libraries are irreplaceable.

For every £1 invested in a library, the community gains £7 in social capital: thanks to funds saved for the NHS by tackling social isolation, thanks to enrichment of the local economy and even house and rental prices as communities thrive in place, and thanks to the benefits - financial but so much more - that come from fair, just and accessible lifelong learning. Closing libraries costs. It costs money, it costs communities, it costs children, and it costs those already desperately underserved who risk being deprived of a vital social lifeblood.

I speak not just for myself but for them, for all of us, when I implore South Lanarkshire Council and all decision-makers across Scotland to uphold their legal and moral duty.

Libraries are your right. It is time to fight, compassionately and courageously, for that right. And so, to conclude, I’d like to return to Jackie Kay’s wonderful words, and I hope she’ll permit me one paraphrase for my final line:

‘If you were to shut, Dear Library, it would break my heart. A library user all my life, I’d be lost without my library. A closed library could only welcome a closed mind. Is there a kinder place that you can find than your local library?

I want to say, and I do. I pick up my pen and fight for you.’


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