WHO would have thought lockdown might be the thing to save, rather than shut, our libraries?

More than 5000 new members have joined Glasgow libraries alone - and almost 160,000 e-books, e-magazines and e-audiobooks have been downloaded - since March, according to figures released last week. Long may that trend continue.

Council leader Susan Aitken spoke warmly about the need for libraries – she described them as “not only key tools to help Glaswegians recover from the trauma the city has endured this year, but also to rebuild our communities in the months and years ahead.”

Understanding that libraries mean more than the simple act of book-lending is essential to their long-term survival. Libraries offer safe spaces, places of learning, community hubs. They bring people together and open up knowledge to all.

The big library in East Kilbride was one of my favourite places when I was growing up.

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Tucked underneath the famous Olympia Ballroom, where the likes of The Kinks, AC/DC and Status Quo all played, it was a labyrinth of high shelves and boxes of vinyl, hard leather seats and impressive librarians.

I spent hours there, the thrum of wheels on the wooden floor of the roller disco in the ballroom above a comforting backdrop to browsing – Nancy Drew, the Trebizon School books, Alan Garner, Judy Blume…

My boys love libraries too, from memories of happy ‘bounce n rhyme’ sessions to the exciting weekly visit of the mobile library at their small school.

Because of Covid, their high school library is temporarily not the place of free roam it used to be, but the clever-thinking librarian has come up with an innovative ‘book-a-book’ scheme, which means pupils can request titles in advance and they’ll be delivered to their English class.

Genius idea, says the 12-year-old, who is missing lunchtimes in the library. (And - because he likes to live dangerously - he also approves of an extra service where a pupil can randomly receive a book of the librarian’s choosing.)

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Where would we be without librarians, or libraries? Not in a good place.

Andrew Carnegie, Scottish philanthropist and library-builder, puts it perfectly.

“A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people,” he said. “It is a never-failing spring in the desert.”

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