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Friday, 28 January, 2000, 16:59 GMT
Warning over libraries' fate

Books on shelf Books are giving way to computers, it is claimed

Up to 200 libraries could be forced to close in Scotland because of a lack of investment by local authorities, according to a professional body.

The warning has come from the Scottish Library Association after a report by the Accounts Commission showed that funding dropped from 15m to 12m over the six years from 1993.

The average amount spent per head of population across Scotland is now 2.30.

Association director Robert Craig, whose organisation represents public library workers, said traditional services were suffering while lottery money was used to provide access to computer and the internet.

Money going on new technology

He predicted that 200 libraries across Scotland could close unless the decline in funding is halted.

"There is more money going into public libraries than in living memory, but it's all going on new technology. That means that the traditional services and the library buildings are on a downward spiral due to lack of funding.

Library Many libraries "face closure"
"Libraries are not expensive things to run. We are not talking about something which is squandering public resources," said Mr Craig.

"The closure of branches is inevitable. At the moment there are 600 libraries in Scotland, but a third of that system could go over the next two or three years if the pressure keeps up."

The association has also warned that literacy levels could be affected if the core function of lending books disappears from libraries.

Councils rapped

Mr Craig added: "It's all very well having computers but you still have to be able to read what's on the screen. Libraries are an agent for making information available for people who cannot afford computers, it's part of the social inclusion agenda.

The Accounts Commission also censured eight Scottish councils who were unable to provide details of the level of borrowing.

Chief executive Robert Black said: "A reduction in spending on library stock is a concern.

"It is also disappointing that several councils still cannot report basic information on the number of people using their libraries.

"Until councils have such information, they will not be able to make considered judgments when allocating expenditure between services."
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