Guest post #2 – It’s been a while.., by Antonio Rizzo, Lewisham Library and Information Service

Hi. It’s been a while now, and I thought I should get you up to speed on what has happened around here. It’s 2022, and the kind of library you’d recognise doesn’t really exist anymore, but library services thrive! It’s incredible to see how much we’ve changed, since the new lending rights were set up and since the introduction of the Mirasol readers: our shelving units have become arrays of technology that anyone can tap into. And the buildings we work in are so much more spacious, alive.
Our staff don’t issue books any more, books issue themselves as people read them. Staff don’t sign up people either, since everyone is issued a library card at birth. The library card is the key to public services now.

And who was it that unified all the library catalogues in the UK? That was a stroke of genius, and so simple: no more petty differences and ridiculous multiple costs. How many acquisition departments and senior managers did we use to have? Do you remember? Still, we do retain our identity.

Mind you, the economy – finally – is picking up now, after a long, downward spell. Even youth unemployment is starting to reduce here. And that’s a bit because of what we do: staff spend their days as navigators, trusted experts who help residents jump from Italian literature to numeracy skills, from story-times to sound recording, from homework clubs to javascripts…
And these buildings, you should see them: they’re heaving with people who trust our expertise. There is so much on offer: culture and life skills, democracy in action and public health, art and employment, economic development and poetry. And at the centre of all this?


Do you remember when we used to call ourselves ‘librarians’?
I tell you something that happened to me today. This chap got in, all flustered and waiving his library card. Gets the eReader off the shelf and goes straight to a colleague pointing at the screen: ‘Look, … read, … look. …I wrote this. I wrote this sitting right here, … I wrote it on my phone. D’you know how many people read it? More than two million people. People actually read what I wrote. … I actually wrote something that people read. I don’t believe it myself. And they like it. They want more. I want to sit here and continue to write for ever … This could change my life!’. Well, perhaps our job has not changed that much over the years. And people still call this place a ‘library’ anyway.

Antonio Rizzo is the Service Manager for Lewisham Library & Information Service which recently opened the brand new Deptford Library at Deptford Lounge.

Tell us what you think – it only takes a moment to comment

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31 Responses to Guest post #2 – It’s been a while.., by Antonio Rizzo, Lewisham Library and Information Service

  1. Ian Anstice says:

    Interesting piece. I particularly like the idea of having an unified public library catalogue so every person can see everyone else’s bookstock. Not sure about losing the name “librarian” though. Why should that change? People know who we are with that name – unlike others like “navigators” (really?), “information professionals” or “knowledge managers”. We need to regain faith in the “brand” of librarian, promote it (ideally nationally) for its neutral expert quality rather than be embarrassed about it. We should not try to morph into something else because it sounds cooler and looks better, currently, on a CV. We should regain pride on what we are and shout about it so others, in positions of power, know not to cut our funding like the 21%, Antonio, they cut in your authority last year.

    I completely agree with having a library card from birth or for every child. Michael Rosen has been on about this for years, to a couple of sets of governments, with no results so far. It would be easy to do, with minimal cost, and remove a perceived barrier.

    Deptford Library does indeed look wonderful but, getting back to budgets, there’s another problem here. The council withdrew funding from a full five of its twelve branches last year, presumably in part to keep Deptford up to standard. That’s a high price to pay. Those five libraries are now run by a social trust (three of them … initially at least specialising in computer recycling but with laudable ambitions to maintain libraries), a senior citizen’s charity and the last by volunteers. I understand that they are working really hard – Eco Computers seem genuine and those in New Cross are working really hard – but they have been cast adrift and their long-term future is not really safe. Initial information appeared to show a reduction in use of these branches of 46%.

    So, in the current reality, we can have great council-run libraries – but only if we have a lot less of them. That’s not so great for those in the localities who lose theirs and, ironically, it is the people who can least afford their loss who are also those who cannot afford the transport costs to get the nice new big shiny one.

    Hopefully, this consultation will stress to those with the budgets how important it is to keep the funding of libraries at a respectable level. Or 2022 is not going to have many libraries in it, no matter what they’re called.

    • Hannah Slipp says:

      Ian. Your reply raised a wry smile. But my smile dropped when you casually added that those who need libraries most, are least likely to get shiny new ones. Last time I walked down Deptford High Street, I did brush past talented and gifted people, burning to better themselves – except financially many are at rock-bottom. The reasons their talents don’t convert into wealth when others’ do, are tangled deep in the roots of this nation. Many of them like you, would not expect a community like theirs to have the shiny new library. But they have it, and after a grinding day or nightshift working for not very much, they are in there at 7am when it opens or til 10pm when it shuts. So, I doubt it was deliberate (it rarely is), but casting an initiative like Deptford as folly, or a distraction from the real issues – is also helping maintain the attitudes which ensure our poorest communities continue get the worst deal.

      • Alan Wylie says:

        Hannah – the vast majority of library users want local libraries that are responsive to their communities and needs, with at the core a fantastic book stock (ebooks included), free IT provision, dvds etc, knowledgeable and professional paid staff, a bright, acessible and clean building that is open when they but want it what is really happening up and own the country is that these local branch libraries are being sidelined at the expense of expensive city centre libraries! Nice publicity for politicians and councillors but not so nice for local communities! I think you are missing the point Ian was making!

      • Ian Anstice says:

        Hannah. My apologies – I did not mean to take your smile away. I am delighted that Deptford has a shiny new library and most especially delighted that it is in an area that deserves it the most. More like it, by the sound of it, should be made.

        Sadly, from what I can see is happening in the borough, the deep financial cuts being made mean that what Deptford gets, other parts of the borough are losing. Lewisham – and I must admit here that I have never been, all I have to go on are the media reports – appears to be withdrawing from its reponsibility to provide libraries from some places in order to add to others.

        This is no way meets the “comprehensive and efficient” test of the curent legislation. There is nothing comprehensive about a postcode lottery. Rather, it makes all the more stark the current uneven patchwork of library provision that must be obvious to all those who follow developments. Some library authorities are given sufficient priority and funding (and as important the right leadership) and provide wonderful library services. Others appear to be confused about their purpose or uncaring and poor and worsening library services are the result. This is localism but of the worse kind.

        What is needed is a supervision of the library provision with some teeth. This includes a secretary of state that actually intervenes on occasion (Hello Ed, enjoying continuing doing nothing?) and some of national body that checks and shames (sorry, encourage to do better) those councils who doing a poor job, such as Cymal effectively seems to be doing in Wales.

        And lets keep calling them libraries and the staff in them librarians.

  2. Refreshing Innovative thinking outside of the box. What I take away from Antonio Rizzo’s piece is the idea of the Library as being the resource centre for a small area/township. A place where you can work on a project, relax and read,simply browse or meet similar minded people. Each library needs to respond to local need (not perceived local need): Easy to use IT is at the heart of it – and the idea of ‘navigators’ is central to this: many people are IT savvy (so need little more than hardware which delivers). However many are not and need support and encouragement. To dig and delve sensibly into the immense capital of knowledge now available on the web. Yet the Library still needs to provide printed books – perhaps more on demand than on shelves – and most importantly newspapers and periodicals. For them to work, they need people to use them: so attractive and comfortable surroundings – café, bookshop attached – and open at hours people are available (most working people are not available Mon-Fri 9-5…) are vital. Libraries are the public engine room of our UK knowledge base and very much part of the educational growth of our nation. They need not to be suppressed on financial grounds (present short-sighted policy) but transformed and invested in.

  3. Alan Wylie says:

    I’ve been a ‘navigator’ for years, i am one of the endengared species known as a Reference Librarian! If the future vision for libraries is one that includes a limited network of shiny new city centre libraries with the branch network decimated or run by volunteers then count me out! If it also means that libraries are diversified to the point were they are hardly recognisable as libraries then count me out! Canada Water, Birmingham, Deptford and many more like them have all been built and sustained at the expense of the local branch network, this is an attractive way forward for politicians and power hungry councillors but it is not sustainable or wanted or needed by the vast majority of library users (and non users!)
    So by all means lets develop and move forward but not if it dilutes the core ethos to the point of a homeopathic remedy!

  4. Antonio, I chuckled:) and enjoyed reading your for being unashamedly positive. I’ve been working in public libraries for about 10 years, love my job and can’t wait for the changes over the next 10 years.
    I accept that the need for public libraries, as repositories of books, has declined over the last 50 years, now everyone has their own.
    I can’t accept libraries (and librarians, what-ever they’re called) not having a role in 10 years time. The enthusiasm among colleagues I’ve met at library camps is as infectious as it is refreshing.
    I wanted to end with a Dylan-esque “the times they are a-changing” quote. Instead I’m opting for the more arrogant and ballsy
    “I got grace in times of friction, I got truth in times of fiction” Hank Rollins
    We need some passion and if that can be misinterpreted as anger, it will serve us well.

    • Alan Wylie says:

      Richard I wish i shared your rosy optimism for the next ten years but i don’t,and i didn’t chuckle, all i can see is more redundancies, more libraries closing, more divestment and more fragmentation! Are you implying by your comment “now everyone has their own” that everyone has their own library of books at home? If so what an incredibly out of touch and elitist view point, have you not heard that books cost money and if you haven’t got much or any then you’re not in a position to buy them or an ebook reader! That’s one of the fundamental reasons why libraries exist! I will also end on a song “we’re on a road to nowhere”!

      • Hello Alan,
        First, apologies for my delay in replying. I’m somewhat of a ‘noob’ struggling to follow up posts and blogs, I’ve located the “Notify me of…” boxes and ticked appropriately.
        Thank-you for your passionate response. You’re more than entitled to challenge my optimism;)
        Stop me if I’m being too optimistic, 50% decline in book issues over the past 20yrs, decline in regular use from 70% to about 30% Public libraries are up a certain creek without much of a stick to paddle with.
        My guess as to why this is happening to public libraries, is the crash in the cost of books. I’ll agree that books cost money (particularly, new hardback), would you agree that relative to the average wage, the average book cost less now than it did in the 1850s?
        I disagree with your assertion that the fundamental reason libraries exist is to provide books for all, here you are confusing libraries with public libraries. Libraries exist because people covet the written word, externalised memories. Books are priceless, a book is a bunch of paper, ink and glue.
        Your cry of elitist gave myself and some friends of mine a chuckle too. I’ve been labelled many things in my time, elitist hasn’t been one of them. If I’m out of touch I’m curious as to what you think of Dan Terzian?
        “Libraries should embrace the digital revolution, even though it entails the loss of librarians. The purpose of libraries — the purpose of librarians — is to spread knowledge. The growth of the Internet changes how we pursue this purpose. We no longer need librarians in the same way and in the same number as before. It’s understandable why librarians bemoan this; nobody wants to see their profession fade into obscurity. But libraries do not serve the egos of librarians; they serve the people. And in the information age, serving the people requires evolving and innovating.”

        Challenging indeed. I’ll finish with more lyrics from your chosen tune: Talking Heads’ Road To Nowhere

        I’m feelin’ OK this morning,
        and you know,
        we’re on the road to paradise,
        Here we go, here we go

        Very apt:)

  5. Laura Swaffield, The Library Campaign says:

    Hi – what Mr Rizzo describes (including the half-crazy self-publisher) is very much what you get in a library today.
    If you’ve still got one.
    Maybe paper books will be 100% replaced by e-stuff, which everyone will be willing & able to use. But maybe not. Remember how TV was supposed to wipe out radio?
    Let’s stay flexible enough to provide what people actually want, whatever it is. Oh, and good luck with sorting out the chaos of all the different rights & fees & e-devices demanded by all the different publishers…
    You’ll need more than luck actually. With hundreds & hundreds of libraries dumped on ‘the community’ (as in Lewisham) many that survive will be outside any kind of local or national system.
    So forget any national rights agreement, or PLR – let alone a national catalogue and access to all the titles on it.
    Pity – because the national catalogue has been discussed since at least the 1930s. If only the ‘navigator’ profession, or those who are supposed to lead them, would get on with it we would have it now. Plus the library card at birth.
    And forget the expert staff, too – whatever you call them. The future for most of us is volunteer staff – hadn’t you noticed?
    The irony is, of course, that the internet is an undreamed-of new way to make much of the national collections + a host of education and entertainment & communication resources available at the smallest local library. So people can get to it, no matter how old or young or poor or busy they are.
    Unfortunately most of these local libraries will have closed by 2022. As in Lewisham.

    • Laura: Harsh, but fair. Can I ask what your ideal library is, what is in it, what it’s priorities are, how it’s funded? I’ve blogged about this before and it’s generated some interesting ideas.

  6. Laura Swaffield says:

    Harsh but fair question! My own ideal library would be open til at least 2am & have a complete ban on children.
    In other words, ideals & visions aren’t quite the whole point. A library is a place with stuff in it that anyone can go to. It would be foolish to predict exactly what stuff, 10 years ahead. In 2002 there were no e-books, no social media, no loads of stuff that I probably still haven’t heard of.
    Plus there are obvious local variations, whether it’s a community language or a bloke who likes chess & wants to try running a chess club at ‘his’ local library.
    I would insist, however, that lots of accessible local buildings would be core – if the very concept is not destroyed by current mass closures and the equally dangerous ‘hollowing out’ via cuts to stock, staff, opening hours etc.
    The point is to be flexible around these basics. Provide what people want; show them things they want but didn’t know existed. Publicise the fact that you exist. Welcome suggestions (& offers of help) from outside people. Use buildings better.
    Flexibility, openness and good communication skills have to be built into the staff skillset. They have to communicate with library users, potential users and their own bosses.
    Networking (mostly electronic) has to be far more actively fostered by the assorted (too assorted) professional associations and supposed-to-be-leading bodies like DCMS & ACE.
    So good ideas spread, national deals are done, nobody reinvents the wheel.
    It beats me why this hasn’t been done years ago. There is MASSES of research, case histories, blueprints & toolkits for proven successful projects, bright ideas big & small, high quality promotional material… etc
    Some of the above would help make savings.
    On top of that, I am drawn again & again to Upper Norwood Joint Library – an historical anomaly that does not ‘belong’ to any local authority. It provides a complete PL service run by paid staff, lots of events & reader development, study space etc etc, extra stock, & plenty of input from volunteers – but only the kind that enhances the service without replacing library skills.
    It does for itself everything you might expect from a council ‘central services’ dept, including stock purchase (yes! it says consortium purchasing is not all it’s cracked up to be!), ICT, obtaining outside grants etc etc etc. And it does it without paying for any of that council ‘support’. So it does it for half the cost of any equivalent library.
    I know it’s simplistic to say that ‘back office’ functions can be dropped just like that, & I know we’re talking about people & jobs – but really can one completely ignore this model? Backed up by national networking & SOME kind of organisation that deals with real services & not devising visions all the time…

  7. Hi
    Antonio Rizzo is far sighted, but not as far sighted as he should be.
    In 2017 when the Local Government Association got their way and Parliament repealed the 1964 Public Library and Museums Act the way was paved for the public library service now enjoyed in 2022 by the British public, especially in London. The 32 library authorities which now comprise the London Libraries Authority which saw fit to remove all the redundant Navigators last year on the grounds that they were superfluous. The world-class city that is London now boasts 4 Supermegalibs, one in each quadrant of the city, with a Captain-in-Charge of these cultural jewels. Some still sell the few remaining paper books to avid collectors.
    All are open 24/7 for the few visitors who prefer to download their media matter on to their wrist-watch recorders on-site, rather than the majority, who of course download remotely. Their watches are naturally all fitted with identity chips and GPS systems so the library cards that Lewisham issued at birth until 2020 are now as redundant as the Navigators aforementioned.
    Oh! Brave New World…that has such creatures in it….

  8. “Do you remember a library Miranda, do you remember a library….. this is going back, not forward. Laura is right, Peter is futuristic so my best shot is to advise all to get yourselves down to a library authority that has changed its operations and SEE for yourself what you get if you are a tax-payer, council tax-payer, VAT payer etc etc in your borough. Contrary to the 1964 Act you do not all get the same. Live near an authority run Library and it is not half bad. Live near a “community” run library and ask why you have been picked on to pay the price of CUTS? Why was it not shared out between us? Residents are willing to share.
    Not only do we have a democratic deficit we now have a funding deficit, but only for some. This cannot be justified.
    It is time someone followed the money trail. What has been spent? What has been saved? Who knows?
    When oh when is anyone going to listen to users and would be users of our libraries? We are not greedy, but we deserve accessibility, which means local. Did someone once have a Localism policy?
    “Do you remember a library Miranda, do you remember a library …” we had 18, then it was 12, now it is 7 ……………. when will it be Miranda’s memory?
    Patricia Richardson

  9. Oskar Matzerath says:

    Mr Rizzo suggests that librarians may not be called that in the future, but I don’t think the name is the problem.
    The problem may be with the way they present themselves and the profession. No, I am not a librarian, and yes, I think librarians are a bit boring. They are boring because most of them live in the past.
    Somehow, they feel they are personally attacked by the cuts and victimised by those who don’t understand what they do. I am baffled by the assumption that – as an endangered species – they need protection. Darwin’s often misunderstood law is not about the survival of the strongest, it’s about the survival of the most adaptable to the environment.
    I am sure that many people who work in libraries are flexible, energetic, and are making a real difference to those using libraries. But, are these librarians? If they are, do they need to be?
    I know people are going to blow their top on the being ‘boring’ thing, but the real provocation is on their ability to change. Indeed, this profession does not really come across as the most forward thinking. If they were, they would have sorted out some basic issues that – as people say here – could have been resolved years ago. Perhaps libraries are not changing quickly enough, and that may be because of the librarians in them, who have been doing their job perfectly well for the last 30 years.

    • Alan Wylie says:

      Ozkar – Yes i agree with you the profession has done very little to promote itself and the senior levels, the SCL and ALCL, have actively sought to pull the rug from under the feet of the service and the staff they claim to support and represent! But front line librarians and library staff of any real worth talk and listen to their communities and users and what they hear more often than not is “we want local libraries with knowledgeable professional paid staff” oh! yes and i know this will upset those who claim to be ‘modernisers’ they still want books (and free IT, dvd’s, ebooks – although i do think this demand has been overstated! etc) Unfortunately there has been a total lack of leadership in the sector and this confounded with poor policy and decision making linked to a neo-liberal agenda and the austerity cuts have landed us in the mess we are in now!
      So what’s the way forward; listen and act on the needs and wants of users and the wider community, strong leadership with a clear representative vision, national library standards and a committment to a properly publicly funded service without the constant threat of closures, cuts, privatisation and volunteer run libraries! (oh! and just a personal plea could we halt this annoyingly patronising quest for the 21stC library nonsense please?)

    • Gary Green says:

      How should librarians present themselves and the profession to show that they don’t live in the past? Maybe it comes down to technology? I’m a librarian. I’m a fan of technology – I recognise how much benefit it can be to people no matter what aspect of life it’s used in, whether it’s libraries or anywhere else. I also know plenty of other librarians who see the advantages technology can give library services and they’re working at making the best use of these technologies to provide services that library users want. But (as is the case with all aspects of society) I also see technology as something that sits side by side with existing aspects of the library service. This is how libraries should be adapting – taking advantage of new ideas, but not totally neglecting traditional parts of the service. Just because I own a few whizzy gadgets I don’t automatically assume that everybody has access to the same gadgets as me, or can access information, books, learning, etc in the same way as me. Some people can’t, don’t or won’t for all sorts of reasons that are perfectly reasonable. Getting rid of access via these more traditional routes is like saying cars are the future, so everybody has to get rid of their bikes.

      I’m sure there are plenty of librarians on the front line being “flexible, energetic, and are making a real difference to those using libraries”, but even if they aren’t on the frontline there are still many behind the scenes who possess these qualities and are making a difference, no matter how hidden it may be to some people.

  10. Desmond Clarke says:

    May I suggest you read this thoughtful piece by Steve Coffman, a senior professional librarian in the US. The feature was published in INFORMATION TODAY and titled The Decline and Fall of the Library Empire.–The-Decline-and-Fall-of-the-Library-Empire.shtml

  11. Alan Wylie says:

    I have read the piece by Steve Coffman who also just happens to be the Vice President, Library Support Services, for LSSI, the private library firm who are currently shortlisted for the library contracts in Wokingham and Croydon! So he should know all about the decline and fall of the library empire, especially the public one!

  12. Ian Anstice says:

    Just a thought on ebooks. It is unlikely that publishers will voluntarily accept for long having public libraries providing for free something which is indistinguishable from what is elsewhere sold. The difference between libraries and bookshops has, apart from price, been differential between supply times. Simply put, this boils down to having to wait for the book you want to be available in the library or getting it instantly at the bookshop/e-bookshop. A public library ebook removes this final differential – the identical product is at your computer in the same time and in the same format and is indistinguishable in every way from the paid product, other than a three week loan period in which most people would have read the book anyway.

    In order to get a viable library ebook offer up and running, certain things needs to be in place:
    – The publishers have to be forced to allow libraries to lend ebooks. At the moment, most big publishers refuse to do so. There needs, in other words, to be a Public Lending Right for ebooks. Labour are in agreement with this. It would be nice to get the Coalition on side as well.
    – Publishers need to benefit from library ebooks and not suffer from it. This can be done in several ways. The most obvious to me is to allow only the “backlist” titles to be available at the library. Books that have been published for over a year, say. Or two. The details can be hammered out but the principle is important. There needs to be a time delay that will mean people will purchase books. Conceivably, this would encourage book purchases or at least not harm them – like the argument goes for print books – to discover authors at no risk and mean they are more willing to buy their new stuff.

    Otherwise, publishers will continue to be hesitant to allow libraries into the game. And the future game, at whatever remove it may be in time, is the ebook. In other words, it’s the future of the library principle that is at stake in this matter.

    • Oskar Matzerath says:

      Ian, why should the medium dictate the release date? With books, libraries get titles fairly soon after publication. Indeed orders on some titles can be placed in advance of publication. Why should this be different given the medium? Here the issue is with the service that libraries offer. As with the books, libraries are there to provide a service to readers, perhaps offering the opportunity to expand on established tastes.
      Also, I think publishers are fighting a lost battle with obsolete means. They have to change their approach, because, if they don’t, technology will make them completely redundant. Funnily enough, however, technology may strengthen the role that library staff can play in supporting access to new resources in an unbiased way. But staff too need to change, and be very bold about their ability to change, and direct their future.

  13. Ian Anstice says:

    Oskar – Because the e-book medium means the release date means that a comprehensive public library ebook offer will destroy the publishing industry. Why should anyone buy a book if they can download it instantly for free from the library? With a print book, one needs to at least go to the library to pick it up. There is no such time-penalty with an ebook. It may be that an alternative exists in this and it may already be happening – libraries only have a small number of copies of one e-book title and so a waiting list occurs. However, it still means that those lucky people first in line get something for free that they would get otherwise have to pay for. For the identical thing. That’s the thing here. It’s identical. It’s not dirty, it’s not used, it’s not taking an extra length of time to get. A library ebook is identical to an ebook one would otherwise buy. The medium therefore transforms the situation and account needs to be taken of this. Or publishers will continue to treat libraries like greedy children who want it all, and want it now.

    Point two. Publishers may well need to change their methods. Perhaps they will even disappear, their raison d’etre exterminated by the arrival of infinite free copying. However, the principle of paying for a book needs to stay in some form or, other than for ego, there is no point in writing a book. It will become an amateur affair, with all the worrying connotations of that term. Putting that aside therefore, there will still need to be some charge made at point of delivery so my argument still stands.

    • Oskar Matzerath says:

      Ian, your point – which stands – is irrelevant.
      People charged for vinyl, than tapes, CD, and now downloading.
      They did for cassettes, DVDs, and now netflix.
      People need libraries to be able to tap into the most up to date content in the format they want and need, which – in the spirit of the public library offer – should be free at the point of use.
      I want my public library to give me access to the latest eBooks free of charge now! And I don’t want greedy publishers to get in the way, as they are doing now. And please do not give me the argument of their safeguarding the authors – that’s nonsense. Modern publishing is happening freely, independently, and successfully.
      Do you really believe that “a comprehensive public library ebook offer will destroy the publishing industry”? If it continues, the publishing industry will destroy itself.
      The point is not why should anyone buy a book – It is, why should anyone buy a book (or eBook) from a publisher when they could buy it from the author?
      The point of the library, as I suggest, is that – as it has always been for public libraries – staff may be ale to help readers get to the content they want and need. And it does not matter if they then download it from home or at the library.
      Last thing, what’s wrong with literature produced by amateurs – as in people who do not get paid? You know about the amount of exceptional content that is every day produced by people who just put it online for everyone to read, not for money. Perhaps, public libraries should encourage amateurs… Actually, it looks like they do already…

  14. Ian Anstice says:

    Oskar (I like the Tin Drum reference in your chosen nom de plume by the way) – I too would love libraries to be able to offer everything free. I’m a public librarian and this is the model that I am used to. I hope that that is what will happen. However, it is likely that publishers will not allow it to happen becuase, although one may not like it, the format of ebooks fundamentally changes the marketplace in the ways I have described before. Similarly, amateur authors are fantastic but, (again some – very annoying – realism here) it’s the professional ones that tend to do the best work and indeed, have the paid time in which to do it.

    An online ebook market that does not allow for people to sell their goods at a reasonable price is best compared to a cowboy or pirate economy. There is a lot to be said for it, I like free as much as the next man (even more so now my salary has been frozen for three years) but it will probably not be a beneficial one in the long run for the book industry or any market where someone has to earn money from their efforts in order to make it worth their while.

    It may be that the online book market eventually gets rid of the need for publishers and authors offer their wares direct. However, this does not change my underlying argument at all. We’d have to negotiate with each and every one without Public Lending Right and many, again annoyingly, are as likely to be as motivated by earning money as the publishers are.

    But, anyway, we’re getting away from the point. Which is that publishers simply won’t allow all of their ebooks to be free at point of desire unless they are co-erced to do so. Given the current government’s reluctance to interfere with the free market, a public lending right that at least gives publishers no reason to fear for their continued profit margin may be the best that we can hope for and my suggestion comes the closest I have seen to fulfilling that. Bear in mind that we are currently living in a world where at least one UK library authority sees nothing wrong in charging for ebooks and all authorities don’t have access to the majority of bestsellers, charge or no.

    A comment I came across on the Digital Reader website shows the point well: “The trade publishers just weren’t interested in the idea of renting ebooks, and that’s because ebook sales are too good at the moment. They’re making a nice profit with a system they understand, so they see no reason to potentially undermine it by introducing rentals to the market.”. If publishers aren’t even willing to rent their books, they’re unlikely to give libraries carte blanche to lend all of them effectively for free any time soon. That is, without legislation and without a mutually beneficial arrangement.

  15. Laura Swaffield, The Library Campaign says:

    I’ve come back to this space because it has turned into a place where – thank the Lord – people are debating the real issues that urgently need sorting.
    That’s what ACE should be doing.
    If ACE wants even more piles of repetitive blue-skies speculation about ‘the library of the future’ – there are piles & piles of it already.
    If it wants some radically new research, it might actually ask library USERS what they want. There’s some of that about, but not so much.

    Meanwhile let’s keep listing what is happening in the real world, in hopes of attracting ACE’s attention.

    For instance, the pathetic level of basic publicity for libraries and librarians.
    Remember the excellent Love Libraries campaign with very active website, annual awards, events, merchandise, mini-campaigns, promotional material, make-overs and much press cover.
    Developed on a shoestring by The Reading Agency.
    Killed off by MLA.

    Similarly, the massive research and campaigns delivered by National Literacy Trust for the two National Years of Reading. Including adding – was it? – 2m new library members via a single newspaper campaign.
    Again, delivered on a shoestring.
    Again, left to wither.

    These charities are doing what a library development agency should be doing.
    Very efficiently.
    And they are doing it now, not in the future.

    To continue : For instance (continued), sorting out the current e-publishing shambles.

    For instance, I add in below something from a librarians’ e-discussion list:
    “Given the new enthusiasm for shared resources it is difficult to understand why so many local authorities have failed to take a fairly simple step to make this possible. Those using RFID technology to provide self-service will find it increasingly difficult to find ways to deliver the ‘joined up’ service envisioned in this article as a result of their failure to mimic their European colleagues by adopting a common standard for identifying stock.
    The result is that while countries like Denmark already have the facility to lend and borrow across authority boundaries their UK counterparts cannot do the same if they have purchased their solutions from different suppliers. The only ‘workarounds’ require consortia members either to abandon competitive tendering by buying their solutions from a single supplier or abandon functionality and development by using only 1 element of the 30 available – a solution that still requires additional investment to buy the specialist software needed to do so.
    There is an answer to this problem – which has been being promoted by the standards bodies – and even the suppliers – since 2009 but which local authorities have mostly ignored. In a recent survey only 23% of UK libraries indicated that they were using a common data standard – and this figure is almost certainly artificially high.
    As more council services are delivered through the libraries this problem will be exacerbated by the lack (except in Scotland) of any agreement on similar standards for identifying those who will use these services.”

    • Frances Hendrix says:

      Same old same old, or is it it just me that is old?

      I was reading in the press today about how Tesco has lost the plot and stopped communicating with, and understanding its customers. That its LOGO is off putting and not in tune with todays society. Well Tesco has the money clout and probably vision to get it right in this changing world, but libraries have been struggling for years to find the solution to its future.

      So many peoele have now had their 3 pennyworth,on what is wrong, what we need to do, how and when. We have had report after report after enquiry, protest, minister after minister, and still the state of public libraries is in peril.

      However Antonio Rizzo’s piece is a joy to read, and seems to grasp the future. One of my roles since being activly involed in paid work for libraires is as a Police Authority member and a magistrate. All are struggling to deal with the future, are facing up to cuts and managing how they will survive and be fit for purpose in the new century. BUT they have a plan, they have a view, somehow for libraries we all have a plan we all have a view but it never gets off the page.

      Minister after minister have ignored us why? WE now have very active groups responding to the cuts, the use of volunteers etc, many of them the same poele that have always fought for the future of libraries, BUT where does it get us. What significant change have we seen in the last 50 years (the time I have been involved in libraries). We call on the literati and stars when we have a big event but do we use them all year long? We seem to resent those who are not stars but are active in the library world but are not librarians, and yet they get the newspaper and TV coverage. All library staff need PR and presentation skills and training.Our voice appears to be boring, and we make the same lengthy statements year after year. We have a great product but somewhow we dont sell it correctly. Has any one noticed how Clarkes shoes has reinvented iteself from the fuddy duddy school shoe to compete in the fashion world and on the internet?

      My last visit to a public library (yes I am a Kindle user an Amaazon purchaser, but have a house full of books), was not to borrow but to conduct an interview. I arrived a little early so went to the ladies loo. A stark bare minamilist space like something out of 1984, and no soap and no paper. I asked at the counter when I found the frazzled assistant, clothed by a second hand shop at the lower end of the shops, hair all of a do dah (and am not critisising the person, but the authority who do not have some sort of dress code for those facing the publlic), why there wasnt any. Her response, we put it out each morning bit it is gone straight away! Now some lateral thinking needed here? The place was frankly a dump, the etrance obsure, the interior in need of huge refurbishment, it was tatty. WHY? Do our chief librarians have so little clout, commitment, power that they come bottom of the heap in local authorities?

      It is sad. It is a sad reflection on the drip drip drip of lack of progress, lack of power, lack of suppport , missed opportunities over many years that these little goldmines that could be the centre of community life have failed so miserably.

      When I was a child we had no library in the village, we had a box of books from the nearest town, sent weekly. We rushed to the institute every week to grab some more books. Many of our current public libraries are no better.

      What needs to be done? I dont know. So much has been tried but never caried through. I suugested many years ago we should go inot partnerhsdip with post offices, now they of course are under threat. But we must start with ourselves., are we made of the right stuff, singing from the same hymn book, using the many many people with clout to the best of our ability to change things? I really dont think so. We need to be like Tesco is in getting to know and to understand the world we live in, what do our users want, how can we do it. BUT instead we rarely ask the users, ACE hasnt. When we do (and Laser did in a number of reports and conferences), the young told us what was wrong with the libraries and the staff. Many love books and a place to be, to meet friends, study, relax etc, but the image and often the reality is so far away from where they want to be they dont use the library.

      Is there a future? Yes, but we have to face the fact it will and should be as Antonio says. Society, the world, life has changed. Not for all as John V and John P have articulated, not yet anyway, but change it will be and we need to build a strong and secure place for the public library in this modern world.
      How? I wish I knew, but it has to be power, we need to work together, we need to stop pontifciating and join forces with whoever, maybe Tesco, and march to success.

    • A National Library Service, quite frankly I’m disgusted that the UK doesn’t even have an interest, never mind a functioning department. As has been shown by the publishers’ abuse of EBook lending, now more than ever we need a synergic response. I’ll hold up my hand and say I believe this is the dirty aspects of politics asserting itself. A childish, “It’s my ball and you’re not playing with it” approach to co-operation.

    • mickfortune says:

      Thanks for quoting my rant on standards Laura. Things are however likely to get much worse very soon. Whilst the RFID tagging of library stock continues at breathtaking pace – and mostly in ways that eradicate choice and inhibit innovation – borrower cards are set to be the next Tower of Babel that will be erected in the near future. Local Authorities – and local democracy – encourages decision-making to be as close to the voters as possible but sadly most public libraries have been stripped of the knowledge and skills that might have prevented them from falling into the technological traps into which they have almost uniformly done. In many other European countries – most notably Denmark – public libraries have been saved from this fate by having a National Agency with the expertise to provide advice and set standards for everyone to use.

      Danish libraries are therefore less likely to be threatened by new EU regulations on the privacy impact of RFID in the library due to be published later this year. These are likely to require libraries – as operators – to prove that their systems do not breach privacy laws. Those that cannot do so may find themselves having to remove the technology altogether.

  16. It’s also useful to take a look at some alternate future scenarios and their anticipated impact for public libraries in “The Bookends Scenarios: Alternative futures for the Public Library
    Network in NSW in 2030”

  17. It’s always difficult to predict the future. Technology moves so fast and shifts focus so often that many predictions go by the wayside. For example in the 1950’s they predicted that we’d all have domestic robots doing our washing and cleaning. Although that prediction never quite came to fruition, we do have robot vacuum cleaners, albeit in the form of wheeled disks scurrying around the floor, rather than ‘robbie the robot’ pushing a broom.
    Antonio does however make some interesting predictions in his blog post and for my money he’s not far off. Members of the public can already write books and have them published by Amazon and those books can already be sold to millions for use on their Kindle eReader. Library consortiums like SELMS strive to unite libraries under single Library management systems, with shared catalogues that borrowers from all consortium libraries can borrow with their library card in any consortium library. Local authorities are already looking at a single ‘authority services cards’ that will give you access to leisure centres as well as act as your library card, okay this is not quite the way round Antonio predicted but it’s essentially the same thing. eBooks have been outselling print books on Amazon since 2010 and it’s Kindle eReader continues to be it’s number one selling item, out of the 136,771,169 items it sells.
    Now I’m not going to argue the semantics of whether a librarian really is a librarian any more or are likely to be called a navigator in the future! I’m a technologist not a politician Jim (to borrow from the popular science fiction of Star Trek). It is however to such popular science fiction that we should initially look for clues into our future, and the future of libraries. These days, scientists and inventors look at such science fiction and ask can I make that a reality. It started with the Start Trek communicator that became the mobile phone, then there was the Star Trek ‘PADD’ that became the iPad (yes Star Trek invented it not Apple). Mobile phones are now thinner, lighter and have much more functionality (including eReader apps) than that science fiction show ever envisaged, because technology progressed and the focus shifted to how it looks and what else it can do. Perhaps then the library of the future will look like the stark envisioning of the 2002 remake of HG Wells ‘The Time Machine’ ( where information is obtained from a ‘photonic librarian’ rather than a human one?
    As a Library IT manager, I can already see such future visions taking shape in our libraries today. Our computer suites in our town centre libraries are always full, there are always more people in them than are borrowing books. We have recently introduced the ability for our borrowers to borrow eBooks and this will again have an effect on the number of people that actually borrow physical books in our libraries. We have automated borrow and return kiosks for the self serve generation and it won’t be long before we operate other services on those terminals, like the ability to pay your council tax. Libraries have to evolve to survive, to meet the demands of the public that use them. The fact that Libraries managed to survive the introduction of the Internet is probably more to do with people not being able to afford computers or shying away from technology than the love of printed books but the Library evolved to add computer suites to allow people without computers to use computers. The fact that libraries have gone from a having single ZX Spectrum computer back in the 80’s, to entire suites of 30 or more PC’s is more evidence of this. So yes the library of the future will be a very different place to today, it will reposition itself as a council services hub, an Internet café with free WiFi and an eBook reader shop. Rows of computers will replace rows of book shelves, knowledge will be delivered digitally and I’m afraid to say librarians will become more like tech support operatives, helping the public download books onto their eReaders rather than being fully conversant in the Dewey system. So I turn to the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary (that’s online as opposed to found in the reference section), for the definition of a Librarian and it tells me a Librarian is ‘1. a scribe, copyist, 2. the keeper or custodian of a library, 3. a dealer in books’. I guess, then, as long as libraries are still called libraries in the future there will always be custodians of them within.
    I for one am ready to embrace this future vision of Libraries. I know I could replace our reference section with a computer suite tomorrow and it’d be full by lunch time. It’s what the community want from their library and so it’s what we should give them. It’s not for us to dictate what we think our customers want, it’s for us to listen to what they want and do our best to offer it. If that means the Library of the future is delivered today then I can’t wait to be a part of delivering that.

    • jahschmidt says:

      Spoken like a true technologist. However according to our systems thinking stats (as gathered from our library customers over many months) the main reason people come into our library is to borrow books – this is what they have told us they want and we will continue to provide it.

      As a librarian on the enquiry desk the internet is an invaluble tool for finding relevant info for customers but there are always times when specialist reference books in hard copy deliver the info more quickly and more accurately than online (if you know what your doing.) This is where librarians have the edge over joe public surfing the net – the expertise and knowledge to find quality info from a range of sources.

      Libraries need to change and develop in line with technology and customer demands but we also need to remember our unique selling points and areas of expertise which transcend technology.

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