A collective voice for literature and languages in Scotland

LAS Response to School Libraries Petition

Literature Alliance Scotland sent the following response in support of the Petition: ‘Save Scotland’s School Libraries’, which is currently being considered by the Petitions Committee in the Scottish Parliament.

Letter of 19 December 2015 to Michael McMahon MSP, Chair of Public Petitions Committee, The Scottish Parliament

Dear Sir


We write on behalf of Literature Alliance Scotland, which brings together the principal literature organisations in Scotland as listed in Appendix 1 , in support of the petition ‘Save Scotland’s School Libraries’, which has been lodged by Mr Duncan Wright. We agree with the points made in the petition and strongly support the call for a national strategy for school libraries in Scotland. We would submit the following points:

  1. Literature Alliance Scotland (literaturealliancescotland.co.uk) shares the concern that Scotland’s network of school libraries, staffed by professional school librarians, has been gradually fragmenting and submits that urgent action is required to stem this decline. The process of fragmentation has become more acute in recent years as local authorities have made choices on which services to reduce in response to financial pressures. The result is that Scotland is creating a situation where the school library service young people receive depends on where they live, something over which they have no choice or control. This cannot be the way to plan for the next generation of Scots to have equal opportunities. Scotland was renowned among other European countries decades ago for its strong sustainable networks of both school libraries and public libraries. We should not risk weakening our networks at the very time when we will need them more.
  2. The recent OECD Report, Improving Schools in Scotland: An OECD Perspective, 2015, notes (p.64) that performance in reading in primary and secondary schools has declined from 2012 to 2014. International evidence shows the vital role of school libraries in improving literacy and encouraging reading: it is well known, for example, that school students will often approach the school librarian for assistance rather than a teacher. With Curriculum for Excellence being described as ‘at a watershed’ in the OECD Report, it will be all the more important to have good school libraries available to school students if Scotland is to fulfil its potential and offer a world-class education system. Elsewhere in Europe, Finland attributes its top performance in PISA reading results to its excellent library system. Recognizing the importance of school libraries in this process, steps are currently being taken there to build up existing school library provision to bring it up to the standard of other parts of their library system.
  3. In common with other comparable countries, the Scottish Government has a vision for Scotland to be a world-class digital nation by 2020 (http://www.digitalscotland.org/about-digital-scotland/). School libraries, staffed by professionally qualified librarians, will be vital in equipping the new generation of school students and ‘digital natives’ in Scotland with all the necessary information literacy skills to meet the needs of the changing digital world.
  4. In developing a national strategy for school libraries in Scotland, the opportunity should be taken to examine how other countries are developing their school library systems in response to the digital age and to consider various existing models. For example – Denmark, where the Education Act requires every school to have a school library, decided in 2013 to make its school libraries into learning centres where the school librarian, the learning instructor, advises, trains and guides school students in relation to digital information and printed books. Naturally, Scotland must decide on the model that best suits its own requirements, but a consideration of how other advanced countries are addressing this issue would be illuminating.

We strongly encourage the Scottish Government to support the call to develop a national strategy for school libraries in Scotland to meet the needs of the 21st century, and then to implement the strategy in a sustained and consistent way across the country.

Yours sincerely

Dr Ann Matheson (Chair)

Dr Robyn Marsack (Vice Chair)

January 4, 2016
LAS Response to School Libraries Petition

LAS Letter to Fife Council on Proposed Library Closures

This letter has been sent by Literature Alliance Scotland members to the Leader of Fife Council in connection with the proposed library closures in Fife, now out to local consultation.

Letter of 31 August 2015 to Councillor David Ross, Leader of Fife Council, and copied to Mr Steve Grimmond, Chief Executive of Fife Council.

Dear Councillor Ross

The Fife Council:  Fife Libraries

We are writing on behalf of the members of Literature Alliance Scotland about the proposed closure of sixteen libraries in Fife.  Literature Alliance Scotland, which represents the literature organisations in Scotland, is a strong advocate of public libraries because they are so crucial in providing access to literature, encouraging reading, assisting literacy and improving people’s chances in life.

We very much welcome your decision to hold a consultation with communities in Fife in order to listen to local views, and we are pleased that you have allowed a substantial period of time up to 6 November 2015 for this consultation to take place.

Libraries in Fife have built a strong reputation for serving their communities.  Indeed, nationally and internationally, Fife, as the birthplace of Andrew Carnegie, is synonymous with public libraries. We do understand that the Council is under pressure to make financial savings, and that there are difficult decisions to be taken.  We should like to support you in listening to local people’s views about their public libraries and to lend our voice in encouraging you to maintain a strong viable network of libraries in local communities, so that people who live in Fife can always have a library close at hand to which it is easy for them to travel and to use.

Public libraries provide meeting places where people have access to culture, knowledge and the chance to learn. In weighing your decisions, we invite you to consider the way in which successful countries (the Nordic countries and The Netherlands, for example) are currently actively strengthening and building upon their existing networks of public libraries. They see them as the principal way for their societies to provide local democratic access to knowledge and culture in the digital age.  Libraries provide equal opportunities for everyone, and everyone in our society has a right to choose their own path.

Scotland has long been known for its strong support for public libraries and school libraries, and for the public’s regard for the excellent network of libraries that has already been created for all of us who live here. Despite the financial pressures at this point, we believe that it is crucial that we should try to preserve the best of what has been cultivated over many generations and combine this with the tools of the digital age.  Involving local people and communities in participating with the Council in making decisions about their own libraries is the best way to ensure that libraries can continue to serve people’s present and future needs.

Yours sincerely

Dr Ann Matheson (Chairman)                   Dr Robyn Marsack (Vice-Chairman)




Membership at August 2015

  • Association for Scottish Literary Studies
  • Association of Scottish Literary Agents
  • CILIPS (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland)
  • Edinburgh International Book Festival
  • Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust
  • The Gaelic Books Council
  • Moniack Mhor
  • National Library of Scotland
  • Playwrights’ Studio Scotland
  • Publishing Scotland
  • The Saltire Society
  • Scots Language Centre
  • Scottish Book Trust
  • Scottish Language Dictionaries
  • SLIC (Scottish Libraries and Information Council)
  • SLAM (Scottish Literary and Arts Magazines)
  • Scottish Society of Playwrights
  • Scottish PEN
  • Scottish Poetry Library
  • Scottish Storytelling Forum
  • Scottish Writers Centre
  • Society of Authors in Scotland
  • Universities Committee for Scottish Literature
  • Wigtown Festival Company
  • Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (Scottish Region)


August 31, 2015
LAS Letter to Fife Council on Proposed Library Closures

Opening Address by Tom Pow at the Literature Sector Review Summit

Tom Pow, poet and writer, gave the introductory address at the Literature Review summit meeting held in The Lighthouse in Glasgow on 30 July 2015. The afternoon meeting was attended by over a hundred people from the literature community across the whole of Scotland. Read Tom’s full address here:

‘I have ten minutes to introduce this hugely complex, thorough and ambitious review. I want to reflect briefly on where we have come from, as well as where we are now and where we might go. This is a rather breathless personal take on that journey.

In 1968, when I went to university, there was not one chair of Scottish literature in the whole of Scotland; one of the reasons perhaps why at the time I could barely tell a MacDiarmid from a McGonagall. Hopefully, the new Scots Scriever and the new Scots Language Policy will help to sort that sort of ignorant nonsense out! I’d never met a living writer and the only way to meet one at university was to import one yourself – Norman MacCaig, Robert Garioch, Alan Jackson and Pete Morgan, the finest performance poet of his and many another generation. It was a time when, as MacCaig commented, Scottish poets were, most commonly, ‘men of sorrow acquainted with Grieve’. Before Liz Lochhead’s Memo for Spring, man and poet in Scotland were almost synonymous terms.

In the suitcase of the Scottish novel, writers tended to be represented by one novel each rather than by a body of work: Sunset Song, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Cone Gatherers. Interesting to note that the film of  Sunset Song, to be premièred in Toronto in September, had its harvest scenes shot in New Zealand – I mean, tell us Robyn Marsack, what can a New Zealand summer offer that a Scottish summer can’t?

Back then again, the ‘literature ecology’ was given oxygen by committed activists – Joy Hendry regularly sold copies of Chapman in the Abbotsford from a postman’s sack (at least that is how I remember it) and engaged passionately with all-comers about Scottish writing. Meanwhile, Callum Macdonald publishing his own imprint and the magazine, Lines Review, was a forerunner of Hamish Whyte and Gerry Cambridge in terms of meticulous standards and steady commitment.

Looking back in this haphazard way, personal hotspots come to mind: among them, Tom Leonard’s first Glasgow poems; the publication of Sorley Maclean’s Selected Poems; the appearance of Lanark; Edwin Morgan’s Sonnets from Scotland; Liz Lochhead’s  Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off: the vibrancy of a culture asserting itself post 1979.  At Polygon, Peter Kravitz was working with Janice Galloway and AL Kennedy and especially James Kelman. Kravitz said later that it had taken him ten years to get Kelman’s voice out of his head.

There were other voices too: Jeff Torrington, Duncan McLean, Agnes Owens, Irvine Welsh – Scotland was finally writing itself. At the same time, Canongate Classics was turning the suitcase of the Scottish novel into shelf upon shelf. Moreover, different kinds of hotspots were coming into being – ones that reflected confidence and that gave support: the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Scottish Storytelling Centre, the Scottish Poetry Library. All of these organisations – the RFOs – in fact, every bloody hotspot you can think of – has depended on vision, generosity and sheer stubbornness. Such were qualities Tessa Ransford had in abundance. She is gravely unwell. I’m sure such a wide gathering of all concerned with Scottish writing would want to pass to her today their thanks for her contribution to Scotland as poet and activist.

It takes acknowledgement of where we have come from to recognise that we are in the middle of a significant hotspot right now. All of the above organisations have expanded their horizons – the number of book festivals has grown, a potential tourist trail from Edinburgh to Ullapool, from Dundee to Melrose, from Wigtown to Shetland, and from Shetland back to Stirling. Bloody Scotland? Aye Write! The Scottish Book Trust has also grown, as it keeps butting itself up against the question of what impedes the pleasures and the social advantages of literacy. The Scottish Poetry Library has increased its capacity and collaborated with the Storytelling Centre in interesting ways.  Cove Park, too, is having new work done to offer more opportunity to artists.  The National Library of Scotland continues to expand its work as a world-class institution. And there are new developments: Moniack Mhor is free to pursue its own exciting agenda (Moniack Libre!); The Saltire Society is re-energised under Jim Tough; and Moat Brae in Dumfries is due to open as a National Centre of Children’s Literature and Storytelling in 2017. It will endeavour to be a centre of innovation and engagement as the Glasgow Women’s Library has proved to be. And hurray, the independent bookshop is back!

Live events – Neu! Reekie!, Rally and Broad and Mirror Ball – are attracting a new, younger audience. If you were ever introduced at Forest Café by Ryan Van Winkle, as he necked a bottle of wine, you might be forgiven for thinking of the old saw that ‘poetry (really) is the new rock and roll’. And, as storytelling, traditional and revivalist, has become part of our ‘official’ (i.e. funded, supported) literary culture, so is spoken word now. Musicians frequently share the platform at spoken word events – Aidan Moffat, Withered Hand, King Creosote – bringing a new focus to lyrics, which, from the Border Ballads to Burns’ songs, have always been a vital part of our culture. And so song writing has also been brought, its mention albeit fleeting, into the larger tent of this Review.

Last summer indyref cultural activists, in word, story and song, reached out to the whole of Scotland – as Neu! Reekie’s summer tour is currently doing. One of the attractive ideas of the Review is the questioning of the Central Beltist concept of ‘out reach’. Instead, it is suggested that regional hubs be set up round Scotland with various kinds of expertise. Connection! Co-ordination! Collaboration! – three significant watchwords within the Review. (They need to be verbs.)

Thankfully, we live in a literary culture now where you don’t need to be dead to be appreciated – though it still helps. The New Writers Scheme run by the Scottish Book Trust produces writers who seem to be born with reputations – Billy Letford, Kirsty Logan, Malachy Tallach, Claire Askew. While at the same time, writers like Ali Smith, Kathleen Jamie, AL Kennedy, Jackie Kay, Louise Welsh – and let’s throw in a token James Robertson and Andrew O’Hagan, now flying a flag of his choice in the Booker long-list – have growing international reputations. That’s not to mention our global brands of Alexander McCall Smith, JK Rowling, Ian Rankin and the Tartan Noires.

Meanwhile, established publishers such as Birlinn, Canongate and Luath, have been joined by the fresher faces of Freight, Cargo, Vagabond Press and current Scottish Publisher of the Year, Sandstone Press. Our publishers respond to the challenges of the digital market place with vigour and imagination, while continuing to produce beautiful, distinctive books, in all three of Scotland’s languages, supported by a more internationally aware Publishing Scotland and Gaelic Books Council. In fact, I think the international section of the Review, with its comparative studies, and call for greater focus on translation, will be one of the most interesting sections of the Review for many here today. The Review comments on all of this, while advocating that the sector needs further re-scoping beyond traditional models to include new digital possibilities of storytelling and collaboration within the ‘creative industries’.

Something that struck me forcefully, engaging with the Review with the members of the steering group, is that it is consciously democratic. It takes writers at all levels, and readers at all levels, seriously. It respects the needs of the child reader and of the young writer; it considers the needs of the commercially published writer and those of the self-published writer; it considers those committed to print and those seeking new platforms. Funding apart, the Review does not preference one literature worker over another – whether working for a literary organisation or reading to a child at night, each is engaged, at some level, with the business of fostering a love of reading and of developing the imagination.

Similarly, it is recognised that publishing, whether a best-seller or a kitchen table pamphlet, can be motivated by a similar passion and desire to share what is considered worthwhile; though again obviously the financial implications are of a different order. This democratic emphasis does not come from nowhere – it comes from all those consulted in the making of the Review; in other words, from many of you here today.

Again, back in the day, my contemporaries – Liz Lochhead, Ron Butlin, Brian McCabe, Andrew Greig and Alan Spence – were from the first generation to make a bare living working in schools. Now, writers are regulars throughout education – from working in primary schools (Itchy Coo! Itchy Coo!), to the numerous Creative Writing Courses at our universities – but also in hospitals, retirement homes, prisons and in parliament: the report sees many more possibilities for advancing the effectiveness and importance of literature as an agent for social good.

Each time I read the Review I am prompted, as you will be, by fresh thoughts. For example, how to sustain a level of critical debate beyond the universities i.e. in our public outlets. For another example, you may find reference to the Open Project Fund rather too frequent. You may also think that certain projects, such as getting more Scottish writing into schools and libraries, are of such significance to our identity and cultural and educational health that funding for them should come from another source i.e. the Government, rather than by putting further pressure on the highly competitive Open Project Fund. If so, this will involve determined advocacy (by someone…) and, in many ways, the success or failure of the ambitions contained here will be decided by how persuasive the literary community can be in unlocking fresh sources of income.

There may be parts of this Review that you will want to argue with vehemently. But do not do so with suspicion.  We have always been very lucky with our literature teams at Scottish Arts Council and Creative Scotland – Walter Cairns, Jenny Brown, Gavin Wallace and now Jenny Niven with Emma Turnbull and Aly Barr, people who have cared and who do care deeply about the state of literature in Scotland. The consultant team at Nordicity and Drew Wylie have worked with energy, engagement and commitment. This introduction has been shot through with holes, omissions and oversights – all my own work – but I hope you have filled in some of the gaps with examples from your own ‘kist o whistles’.

Lastly, the best way I can think of to describe the Review is as a manifestation of energy – something sparky, electric, challenging to control. Chris Grieve had to invent Hugh MacDiarmid so that he could both praise and fight with himself. When Alan Jackson, in 1971, published ‘The Knitted Claymore’, his essay on culture and nationalism, he had to write a letter to The Scotsman himself to create a puff of argument. Our literary culture today is not one lacking in energy or confidence – we don’t have to artificially create energy, only to shape it and to direct it. This Review offers us prospects of doing that.’

Tom Pow

30 July 2015



August 20, 2015
Opening Address by Tom Pow at the Literature Sector Review Summit

New Review of the Literature and Publishing Sector in Scotland

A review of the Literature and Publishing sector in Scotland was published on Thursday 9 July 2015.

The independent study provides an overview of contemporary literature provision, reflecting the successes and the distinct qualities of Literature and Publishing in Scotland whilst at the same time identifying development needs, future challenges and opportunities which will help inform the future work to best support literature and publishing in Scotland.

The review, commissioned by Creative Scotland, and overseen by a Steering group made up from representatives from the literature and publishing sector, was carried out by Nordicity in association with Drew Wylie Ltd.

This is the largest and most comprehensive review of this sector ever undertaken in Scotland, with findings based on more than 60 individual interviews, a series of open session discussions and more than 1,000 online survey responses.

The Review has produced a broad spread of recommendations aimed at improving the health of literature in Scotland and sustaining the sector as a vibrant and resonant form of cultural expression, and as an important creative industry. It covers a range of areas including individual writers, the publishing industry, developing readers, the sector ecology and the international promotion and development of Scottish writing.

Download the full review

July 13, 2015
New Review of the Literature and Publishing Sector in Scotland

Literature Forum submission to The Smith Commission

Following the decision to set up The Smith Commission chaired by Lord Smith of Kelvin, the views of the people of Scotland, campaign and community groups, civic society organisations and institutions were sought on the powers which should be devolved to strengthen the Scottish Parliament.

In its submission the Literature Forum for Scotland stressed that literature in all its aspects is vital to Scotland’s educational and cultural future, and urged the Commission to secure the devolution to Scotland of the necessary powers to facilitate needed improvements to the conditions for writers and for literature in Scotland on a par with other similar countries.  Specific proposals included artists’ visas, artists’ exemptions, stronger international control and broadcasting. The emphasis was laid on the Commission securing the necessary enabling powers with any specific proposals for literature to be subsequently discussed and agreed with writers and other artists in Scotland.

The full submission may be read here: Literature Forum for Scotland (Submission to the Smith Commission Scotland October 2014) (1). Comments are welcome to Ann Matheson (a.matheson@tinyworld.co.uk) and Robyn Marsack (rmarsack@spl.org).

December 1, 2014
Literature Forum submission to The Smith Commission

Literature Forum submission to the Creative Scotland Literature and Publishing Review

The Literature Forum for Scotland welcomes Creative’s Scotland literature and publishing sector review as a means of identifying through consultation in an open way the main priorities for literature in Scotland in the short, medium and long term, improving and building upon what has already been achieved. The Literature Forum wishes to see the results of the review improving conditions for writers and publishers working in Scotland and all those involved in literature, being ambitious for literature within Scotland and for the presentation and promotion of Scottish literature beyond its borders.

The Literature Forum’s full submission may be read here: LFS (Creative Scotland Literature Review, 8 December 2014, final). Comments are welcome to Ann Matheson and Robyn Marsack. More information about the literature and publishing sector review may be found on the Creative Scotland website


December 1, 2014
Literature Forum submission to the Creative Scotland Literature and Publishing Review

Literature Forum submission to National Strategy Working Group on Public Libraries

The Literature Forum for Scotland has responded warmly to the current initiative by the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) in making the case for a national strategy for public libraries in Scotland to the COSLA Sports, Arts and Culture Working Group.  Libraries and literature are inextricably linked and the Literature Forum views the concurrence of the work on a strategy for public libraries in Scotland and the current Creative Scotland Literature Review as a major opportunity for considering issues that are essential to the success of both libraries and literature in improving the spread of knowledge, encouraging the talents and enhancing the lives – civic and personal – of today’s and tomorrow’s citizens in Scotland.

The Literature Forum’s full submission to the National Strategy Working Group may be downloaded here: Literature Forum for Scotland (Submission to National Strategy for Public Libraries, December 2014, final). Comments are welcome to Ann Matheson and Robyn Marsack.

December 1, 2014
Literature Forum submission to National Strategy Working Group on Public Libraries

Scottish Government consultation on an Interim Constitution for Scotland

Prior to the Scottish Referendum the Scottish Government announced a Bill and consultation paper on an interim constitution for Scotland. The purpose of the Bill and consultation paper was to facilitate as wide and open a debate on the constitution of an independent Scotland as possible, with a closing date of  20 October 2014 for responses.

In its response to the consultation The Literature Forum for Scotland underlined its wish for an interim constitution to include: a right to one’s language and culture, to education, to freedom of expression and rights of access to information, to personal privacy, and the freedom of science, the arts and higher education to be guaranteed in any future constitution.

The full response may be read here: Literature Forum for Scotland (Interim Constitution Response, October 2014); and the consultation is available at: https://consult.scotland.gov.uk/elections-and-constitutional-development-division/scottish-independence-bill/supporting_documents/00452762.pdf. Comments are welcome to Ann Matheson (a.matheson@tinyworld.co.uk) and Robyn Marsack (rmarsack@spl.org).

December 1, 2014
Scottish Government consultation on an Interim Constitution for Scotland