Don’t have time to visit your local library? Then let the library come to you online, writes Lord Provost Frank Ross
With the city crest and the words “let there be light” still carved above its entrance, the doors have been open at Edinburgh’s first public library – the Central Library on George IV Bridge – for almost 130 years. It remains one of the busiest public libraries in the country and thanks to it being situated just minutes away from the City Chambers, I often steal a visit on my way into or out of the office.
When it first opened in June 1890, Scottish classics like Treasure Island, Frankenstein and Waverley would have lined its shelves. It is amazing to think that these books remain there to this day and you don’t even have to venture inside to access them. Things have moved on dramatically and finding the time to visit your local library – and bearing the weight of a bag full of books – doesn’t suit all of our lives. More and more I find myself choosing to “check out” an ebook instead or read a newspaper on my phone.
The appeal of a physical book will always endure and our libraries still offer one of the most expansive selections in the world, but they also offer one of the most accessible. In fact, the city now boasts one of the best downloadable library services in the UK, with ebooks, audiobooks, newspapers and magazines all available for free to library members.
Many people don’t realise just how many thousands of ebooks for adults, teens and children can be accessed for free through OverDrive on your tablet, phone or computer. It covers fiction by best-selling authors, travel guides and self-help books, recipes and audiobooks. And, by offering such a selection of formats with four audiobook services, more people are able to embrace literature in a way which suits their lives, including commuters and gym-goers.
Going digital is also opening up the world of the written word to people who have sight loss, and is helping people who develop problems with their sight to keep on reading. Many people will miss picking up a paper in their local library, but as we try to move away from disposable living (and with public funds a finite resource) I wholeheartedly support a focus on widening access to the written word by investing in digital.
Because, since 1 August, Edinburgh Libraries are offering all magazines in a digital formal only and most newspapers too. You can simply switch to receive your daily news on PressReader, which offers over 6000 worldwide newspapers and magazines on your phone, tablet or computer, including the free-to-access computers within our libraries.
For new citizens, the chance to read news from home in your native language is so important. Plus, in an age where the term “fake news” has its own dictionary entry, it’s particularly important to have a route to local news for those who prefer to receive updates on their phone. All you need to access the Library2go services is an Edinburgh Libraries membership. Not a member? Then just join online. It takes no time at all but if you do require further help, the staff also run weekly drop-in sessions and events to increase digital literacy. A lot has changed since Central Library first opened, but we’ve never been freer to benefit from its service.
Cllr Frank Ross is Lord Provost of Edinburgh