Public libraries in Scotland have responded to a surge in demand for online and digital services during the coronavirus lockdown.
All public library buildings in Scotland closed when the lockdown was introduced on 23 March. Hundreds of librarians and library staff have been determined to continue providing communities with services and have developed creative and innovative ways of delivering a wide and varied service remotely to support their members.
Services have created seamless online joining processes to welcome new members, and managed increased demand for digital library services as people increased online consumption to cope with life in lockdown. Downloads of ebooks, emagazines, enewspapers and eaudiobooks have increased exponentially and services have diverted funds to purchase additional online content to satisfy demand. For example:
- South Lanarkshire Libraries: 600% increase in ebook service
- Glasgow Libraries: 250% increase in people joining to download ebooks and emagazines, and more than 3,000 new members signed-up online
- Highlife Highland Libraries: an increase of more than 150% of people downloading enewspapers
- Stirling Libraries: 159% increase in enewspaper downloads and a 138% increase in use of eaudiobooks
- Angus Alive Libraries: 280% increase in people joining online in April to download ebooks
Library staff quickly pivoted a range of library-based services and activities online to maintain engagement with communities, including virtual book clubs for adults and children; poetry competitions; Lego challenges; and online film clubs, storytelling, coding classes, cookery demonstrations and keep fit classes. In addition, new initiatives have been created to meet the lockdown environment, including #techyteabreaks, an online technical support service from Inverclyde Libraries, and free access to online family history content, usually only free in the library building.
It represents a significant change in the digital services offer in public libraries and it is expected the shift will boost their ongoing digital transformation journey.
Pamela Tulloch, chief executive at SLIC, said: “An unintended, but welcome, consequence of the coronavirus lockdown has been a significant increase in demand for online library services. Libraries have had to direct a lot of attention and resources on strengthening their digital offer in a relatively short period. The digital offer in libraries is robust, with a wealth of online resources, and libraries have certainly built on existing online audiences. But the lockdown has propelled the digital transformation of services and invigorated thinking around future development.
“The online library offer is going to be significant moving forward. Libraries will need to focus on developing the virtual environment and online community they have now attracted in addition to the physical offer.
“Closing the doors to public libraries was a counter intuitive move and goes against what they stand for. Fortunately, modern technology means libraries have remained accessible, and have proved increasingly popular as people adapted to lockdown life. Librarians across Scotland will continue to work hard to keep in touch with communities during this challenging period. It may prove to be a pivotal moment for libraries and will undoubtedly lead to the development and introduction of new ways of serving communities.”