Having launched the Digital Skills Sharing initiative between publishers and librarians two weeks ago – one of the Library Development Initiative projectsfunded by the Arts Council – it was evident to us and our partners in the project, The Reading Agency, that much work is needed to bring libraries into a digital arena, which will inevitably increase significantly over the next 10 years.
Dominating the headlines is the incredible rise in sales of e-books, which grew by 366% in 2011 (according to our own 2011 statistics yearbook). The exponential rise in readership of e-books, and “nearly a third of British adults (31%) say they are likely to buy an e-book in the next six months”, according to the latest Bowker study. Naturally that has led to much debate about how libraries can engage in lending of e-books and work is ongoing between authors, publishers and librarians to find suitable models for all parties.
There is, however, more to the digital world than loaning e-books. Engaging with readers through digital means is one of the ways in which libraries will stay relevant in the future. Online book groups, Skype-ing author events, a vast catalogue of samples and author interviews, sharing book reviews and recommendations online are all ways of reaching new readers and engaging with existing ones. Building communities and understanding the consumer, whilst at the same time, raising awareness of library services, books, authors and reading in general.
Nonetheless many barriers are still to be overcome, which need to be worked through in order to have a modern library service. Whilst many public libraries have well a well-developed digital presence and offer, some still have restrictions on their technological capabilities, such as websites embedded in local authority websites preventing the use of certain technologies. Many others are even banned from using social media – already a major way of engaging with the local community of readers. “Skills Development” is the area our project is concentrating on. Publishers hold a wealth of skills and knowledge in the digital sphere and matching that with librarians’ knowledge of their own community will assist in building a modern service offering. There is a long way to go, however, in overcoming the challenges facing libraries in the digital world, which will require investment, a good look at social media policies and continued support and training of staff.
‘Communities’ is the buzz word in the publishing industry right now – building audiences for authors, connecting readers with authors, and direct to consumer engagement. Libraries already play a pivotal role in this and keeping up with modern and future ways of engaging with the communities will be essential to remain relevant in the future.Emma House is Director of Trade and International, The Publishers Association