OVER the last 15 years, our total of 627 public libraries in Scotland has reduced to less than 500. That’s a closure rate of one in five.

With the ongoing council tax dispute between local government and the Scottish Government, those closures may increase further.

The Scottish Government wants a freeze on council tax in 2024/25 but is only offering £147 million to fund it, which councils say isn’t enough to maintain local services and balance the books.

Holyrood funding for councils has been salami sliced year on year; local government funding has reduced by 20% between 2013/14 and 2021/22.

The Scottish Parliament needs to take some responsibility for the demise of libraries in our local communities.

The actual number of library closures is likely to be higher because the recent trend is to describe the closure of a purpose-built public library as a “co-relocation”.

This means a library is replaced by a room or two at a local school and becomes a “community hub”.

Glasgow Times: Andrew CarnegieAndrew Carnegie (Image: Newsquest)

Libraries have existed in Scotland from at least the 16th century but only became accessible with the 1853 Public Libraries (Scotland) Act which enabled councils to fund them.

The philanthropy of Scottish-American steelmaker Andrew Carnegie, above, saw more than 2500 public libraries established across the UK and USA; with the first in 1883 in Carnegie’s home town of Dunfermline.

While the Victorians recognised the social and economic benefit of libraries in the 19th century, we appear to be the luddites closing them as the low hanging fruit for funding cuts.

Yet the popularity and importance of local libraries is unquestionable.

They are essential in providing access to books, improving literacy, tackling social isolation and supporting mental health and wellbeing.

Most host Bookbug Sessions, right, which introduce babies and young children to songs, rhymes and stories.

Many operate as a warm bank giving older people and those on very low incomes somewhere warm to go in the winter.

Libraries provide safe spaces for disabled and vulnerable people to read and learn. People regularly use their local library on a weekly basis to access free computer, IT and desk space facilities.

If you’re in receipt of means-tested benefits, you’ll need access to a computer and printing facilities to print out forms required for Universal Credit.

Public libraries host a range of educational courses in local communities.

Such events can enhance IT and literacy skills and instil individuals with greater self-confidence.

Libraries offer a free, accessible space to go to where people can socialise with others and access useful materials, courses and events.

In terms of section 163(2) of the 1973 Local Government (Scotland) Act, a local authority has a mandatory duty “to secure the provision of adequate library facilities for all persons resident in their area”.

Such facilities must be free under the 1887 Public Libraries Consolidation (Scotland) Act.

The concept of “adequate library facilities” isn’t legally defined, so councils have a wide discretion to decide what library provision is required locally.

I believe the time has come to introduce more modern legislation to make it harder to close public libraries.

At present they are seen as the first port of call for cuts which is so shortsighted and unfair for local communities.