The number of books borrowed from Scotland’s libraries fell by around 3.2 million in just three years – with those who took home at least one item a year dropping by around 75,000 over the same period.
Pamela Tulloch, chief executive officer for Scottish Library Information Council (SLIC), said the figures show only part of the picture, given that libraries are rapidly evolving.
Digital access has vastly increased with 13.5m “virtual visits” made in 2014/2015 – up 3.7m over three years.
Ms Tulloch said: “There is a whole lot of opportunity out there for libraries in Scotland. I don’t see the statistics as showing a huge barrier to people participating in what libraries can now offer. What we have seen is a change in the way people use libraries.
“Don’t forget we have got 28 million visitors coming through the door every year, That is a footfall that most commercial organisations would give their back teeth for.”
Major work continues to reorientate the “book warehouses” of old into creative, learning environments where digital access to information and services is fast and effective.
All of Scotland’s 600 or so public libraries are now fitted with wi-fi with the Scottish Government freeing up an extra £1.4 million of funding.
With the rapid growth in online library services – such as newspaper archives, encyclopedias and the hiring of e-books – librarians will also become “champions of freedom of information and free expression”, according to a national strategy.
Meanwhile, it is anticipated that more people will visit libraries over the next four years to take part in learning and creative programmes rather than to borrow materials.SLIC recently signed an agreement with BBC Scotland, for example, to provide two learning programmes for young people. Macmillan Cancer Support and Citizens Advice Bureau have also been working with libraries to insure clear, unbiased information is available to the public, with librarians assisting jobseekers to navigate employment searches and benefit changes.
Ms Tulloch added: “What you will see in the future is libraries acting as a more integrated, safe space within the community.”
Ms Tulloch said she believes changes in libraries sit comfortably with the principles of Dunfermline-born philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who financed more than 3000 public libraries in the UK and US.
She added: “Andrew Carnegie’s ethos was about self-improvement for the common man and while we may not use those terms any more we have stuck very closely to his aims on health and wellbeing. Now, it is about providing that in a 21st-century context.
“Libraries are for everyone and I think very few people could travel through life without using one.”