#scotbookconf | Amina Shah, Scottish Library & Information Council: “The ethos of libraries is equality for opportunity.”

slicPublishing Scotland Conference – COSLA – 24th February 2015.

“We don’t get out enough and talk to booksellers and publishers,” says Amina Shah, CEO of the Scottish Library and Information Council.

“We’re all talking about readers,” she continues, but notes that libraries don’t just simply supply books, but they foster a new generation of readers and lovers of books. Despite what the news suggests, libraries are still going strong, with over 500 (-1% in 4 years) in Scotland. Libraries are vote winners, because people care about them. There are areas where there are no bookshops, so the library is vital.

We all have stories, as the Book Trust’s Love Letters to Libraries showed, but we take its presence for granted. It was important, but we never questioned the possibility of it being unavailable.

“The ethos of libraries is equality for opportunity.” They engage people, build new readers, support older people who suffer from loneliness and isolation. They have free internet, giving access to those who don’t. Ultimately, people find comfort in the library.

libraryPeople often come in with tablets asking how to get books, and libraries offer a digital literacy that people lack. There has even been a community of librarians sharing these experiences so they can learn from one another and help those who appear.

One of the staggering things Amina has discovered through her work is that people don’t actually know what libraries do, which seems crazy. She says there really needs to be a “cohesive narrative on who libraries are and what they do. People are really unaware.” It’s a marketing issue, tying back to her initial quote. They need to talk more and articulate what they do.

Turning to mandatory library prisons, many are not up to par. Many don’t represent the people reading, and there’s a distinct lack of a Scottish voice. Though, some have excellent facilities, with one creating their own STIR magazine with author interviews, and a real passion for what they’re doing. It fosters the opportunity for them to become readers and/or writers.

An audience member talks up at this point noting his involvement with that prison, and his thoughts on publishing works that they create. It was a particularly interesting point in a very important discussion. It certainly underpinned the importance of library facilities beyond our own experiences.

Back to libraries overall and their gaps in engagement. “Libraries are not engaging with teens despite the YA engagement peak,” she notes, which shows the disconnect between libraries and what can be seen as popular – there needs to be a strong attempt to bridge that gap. “It’s a very challenging time.”

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