Guest post #14 – Listening to users, by Abby Barker

When the Voices for the Library were gathering data for our submission to the DCMS Select Committee inquiry into public library closures, we heard a lot about the aspects of library services people value in their local library, what services they use and rely on, and what they expect from their library service. As local library users are the people fighting for the future of their library services, we thought that they were best placed to influence our opinion of what the library of 2022 will look like.

Core services, based around the recurring theme of meeting local needs and being run by paid and professional library staff, should still be the lynchpin of the public library service in the future, and as such will shape the library service of 2022.

Using these ideas as a building block, the library of 2022 will continue to offer an excellent range of services and continue to use emerging technology to enhance and promote these services. Who could have imagined that libraries would use social media to such good effect even five years ago?

The local library in ten years time will offer tailored services listening to their users needs and making the most of their resources. A local library with a large toddler population will offer storytime. A library close to a secondary school will offer a homework club. Not every library will offer every service; they will be efficiently and professionally managed in order to make the best use of their resources.

As well as being offered where people need them, these services will be offered when people need them, with opening hours to reflect the needs of the community. Extended and weekend opening will continue to grow and so library use, in turn, will grow to an all time high.

Being in the heart of the community is what people love about the public library, although geography won’t place restraints on the services offered. The rise of e-resources will mean that more services are available online. Hopefully the library of 2022 won’t be subject to the current stringent restrictions for e-book lending, and a whole new way of settling down with a good novel will be available to the readers of 2022.

Of course to ensure that the library of the future can offer all of these user-centred services, it will have to have sufficient levels of professional and experienced  staff. The knowledge that these librarians can bring will allow libraries to move forward confidently into the future.

Reading this, you might say that much of what I imagine the library of 2022 will look like is already happening.  You’re right. We have a wonderful library service in this country, why change it beyond all recognition, just so that we can say we are progressing? Providing local councils listen to library users, fund the service properly and respect the librarian profession the library of 2022 will be a brilliant place. I can’t wait to visit!

Abby Barker is an academic librarian and libraries campaigner and one of the team behind Voices for the Library which aims to give people the facts about Public Library Services in the UK, and about the work librarians do, and campaigns to save Public Libraries.
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2 Responses to Guest post #14 – Listening to users, by Abby Barker

  1. Brilliant post. The following really resonates “Of course to ensure that the library of the future can offer all of these user-centred services, it will have to have sufficient levels of professional and experienced staff. The knowledge that these librarians can bring will allow libraries to move forward confidently into the future.”

    For my library the loss of so many of our staff has really impacted on services. The once popular Teen Reading group, run by a qualified librarian who knew the community well and the needs and interests of the teens involved, has been run down to the point where no teens are showing up. Why? It has been run by a succession of staff who don’t really know the teens or have contact with them outside of these sessions to build up a relationship. It has been cancelled because of staff shortages, moved to different time slots because of staffing issues and finally moved to a weekday slot from the mutually agreed and popular, regular and advertised Saturday slot. Last month not one teen showed up!

    At least Croydon has finally had to address this – but only after 12 months of problems – and the group has thankfully just been reinstated to a Saturday, but staffing issues still mean it can only be advertised as and when as the future is unknown.

    This is a classic example of how a library service can be broken, purely through staffing issues, and my library is not alone in this problem. What a demoralising situation for the staff too, who want to provide a great library service, know how to achieve this but are prevented from doing so by a short sighted council who doesn’t understand or value library services.

  2. Alan Wylie says:

    Yes well done Abby an excellent post! Library users (and Library staff) are very rarely consulted, except for the sham excercises that councils are undertaking up and down the country and for the last piece of research done by the MLA, about the Public Library service that they want and need! Even ACE have left them till last with their ‘Envisioning…’ consultation!
    Your point about a local network of libraries that are responsive and accessible to their communities needs is an extremely important point! These local libraries are the backbone of the service and need to be fought for especially with the growing trend for building shiny new city centre ones and the push towards sharing services and co-location, the ‘library hub’ principle!

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