Guest post #11 – Five questions from the Carnegie UK Trust, by Liz Macdonald

It was 1883 when the first library in the UK was opened as a result of a grant from Andrew Carnegie. Then in 1950, having invested heavily in public library services, and not just buildings, the Carnegie UK Trust moved on to other things.  Now, as the Trust prepares  to celebrate its centenary in 2013, it has re-engaged in the issue with which its name is so intimately associated.  Our discussion paper ‘A New Chapter’ published last week, poses five key questions we believe must be answered as we consider the future role of public libraries.

We also identify two features of the current debate which cause particular difficulty; firstly, the gap between what people say and what they do, the ‘value-action’ gap, and, secondly, the legitimate divergence between policy and practice in different localities.

Our first question is how we can develop an agreed way of measuring the value to individual and community wellbeing which the public library service brings.  Our research shows clearly that people value public libraries as a service to their communities more than they value them personally.  This value is about more than providing access to books, although this remains the main reason for people using libraries.  But libraries are not good at measuring the value they add to individual and community wellbeing, in relation to promoting health, strengthening communities, access to employment or addressing digital exclusion, for example. This makes it hard to make convincing arguments for the importance of public libraries to those who fund them.

The second question we ask in the discussion paper is whether the aims and role of the public library service need to be redefined for the 21st century.  Technological developments and changes in lifestyles pose huge challenges for public libraries but also create opportunities. The way people read books is changing very rapidly, and many services both in the public and private sector are increasingly available on-line.  Technology provides huge opportunities and is likely to alter the mix of local, regional, national or even internationally provided services.  The other challenge is that of public sector reform, allied with cuts in public spending.  This makes it particularly important to address the role of libraries in relation to other public services, and in relation to the wider goals of local and national policy objectives.

Our third main question is about how the service is delivered.  Policy and practice in the five different areas of the UK and Ireland, and in different local communities within them, has evolved in different ways.  There is an increasing wealth of experience – whether that is of community-run services, the use of arm’s length trusts, or the benefits of strong national policy.  The Trust, with its role of promoting wellbeing in all parts of the UK and Ireland, is well placed to bring people together and may have some role in supporting the sharing of learning between different places.

Question four is about library buildings and their role as community assets. We argue library services and library buildings need to be considered separately.  The current debate about public libraries has become entangled with debate about the heritage of public library buildings, and sometimes a nostalgic view of library services in the past.  It is more important that communities get the right services in the right places in ways which work best for them, than preserving historic buildings which are no longer fit for purpose.

Our final question is about the benefits of strong leadership, direction and vision.  While there is a tension between local service and national direction, we think there may be benefits from a greater degree of national leadership.  These include developing the kind of measures of value mentioned earlier; promoting the role of libraries, for instance in relation to digital inclusion; promoting the development of shared services; promoting the most effective use of IT; and developing services which can be provided on a regional or national basis.

Liz Macdonald is Senior Policy Officer at the Carnegie UK Trust.  Related research and papers on public libraries from the Carnegie UK Trust can be found on their website

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Guest post #10 – Publishers and libraries must work together, by Emma House

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
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Guest post #9 – Library services: Library buildings, by Kate Millin

I will start by looking at how online services will be provided. None of us know how far technology will have moved in 10 years, but it is a certainty that it will be even more embedded into our lives than it is now. This is particularly important in relation to the information services that library and information professionals provide ( I will use librarian and library as shorthand for the rest of this think-piece).

As more and more information is available in, and only in, electronic format the emphasis of the roles that library staff of all types will carry out will change. It has been said more information does not mean better information. There will still be a need for library professionals to help people find what they want, in a format they can use and at the time they want it…. I have heard something like that before. It does not, however, mean that public libraries need to set up as many different ways of finding this information as there are library services.

My first vision statement for library services in 2022 is that ‘access to online information is facilitated through one online portal that is contributed to and supported by customer facing staff (and other professionals, customers, volunteers they have helped to become fully information literate) with personal support available wherever and whenever it is needed.The content and design of this portal will be managed by library information professionals working closely with their ICT colleagues (who are the experts on the systems that can be used to access content) using a range of the latest electronic technologies available. Where more local information is needed it will be provided by linked in subregional contributors which are professionally mediated.” 

So what does that mean for the library building in the community? My second vision statement for library services in 2022 is that “there are local library places where people and communities can access a range of books, information and other services in the format and style that they are most comfortable with using. They will be flexible/ dynamic spaces with a range of local services accessible and space that can be used for local community activities. They will also let people meet virtually with others from the region, country and world (and space?). Some will have regular professionally qualified library staff, some will have immediate electronic access to professional support – some of which would be holograms who can interact as if the librarian is in the same place.”

When I am talking about professional library staff  I am referring to staff who operate in a professional way providing effective library and information services who are trained and supported by professionally qualified librarians. These librarians can actively use and apply their skills to support all people and communities in a non-judgmental, inclusive and supportive way.  In this world the description librarian will describe people who are excellent at finding, organising and disseminating information resources, they will also be excellent at helping people to gain confidence in finding information for themselves and always there to help those who are not confident, do not want to , or cannot manage by themselves. Even if the country has managed to reduce the percentage of people who are illiterate and not IT literate that helping hand will still be needed.These are skills we are already using as librarians (and I am a Chartered Librarian myself in case you are interested) and will always be needed. It is the arena’s in which we use them that will change and develop.

Kate Millin is the Black Country Library Services Project Manager and the ideas here are purely her personal views. @Kate_Millin
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Guest post #8 – Are eBooks a Byway on the Virtual Highway? by Barbara Scott

I would suggest that eBooks are a significant part of a digital revolution which has been underway since the 1990s but it is the recent technological developments in digital and social media which have led to an explosion of the virtual library.

Libraries have always been about promoting books and linking authors/information and readers/information-seekers and we still can (maybe more so) through digital media. Librarians and Information Specialists have unique skills and abilities to carry out this role and we need to market this unique expertise.

Most library services now view virtual services on a par with traditional services.  I believe virtual services will become the norm as demand increases and demand for digital media will eventually outstrip that for printed media.  Figures from The Publishers Association show eBook sales have risen by366% in 2011 and research from YouGov estimates 1.3m e-readers and 640,000 tablets were purchased as gifts for Christmas 2011. It is also likely that supply  will shift away from printed/physical, driven by costs and environmental factors.

The eBook technologies which succeed will be those the public find easiest to use; specialised e-reading devices will be superseded. Developments by eBook suppliers such as OverDrive are already improving the eBook experience, not only from the reader’s perspective but also from the information practitioner’s.

One interesting example of this is OverDrive WIN Catalog (WIN stands for “Want It Now”) that enables library users to see the full publisher catalogue, read samples of books and recommend titles to the library. It also allows library users to purchase titles online, and enables publishers and libraries to connect with their readers with author fan pages, events and other activities.

OverDrive gathers rich data about user access which can be used by libraries.  This already shows most users access the OverDrive digital catalogues between 8pm and 9pm, highlighting how eBooks can enable libraries to serve new users.

The low cost of eBooks technology has also enabled the massive growth in new and upcoming writers who are self-publishing and self-publicising. Libraries could facilitate this further by developing links with these authors, especially locally.

eBooks are changing the way users access reading material and I can understand why the top publishers want to restrict access within library markets.  However, I am confident the right models will be found, not least because authors will demand it – like JK Rowling  and her Pottermore website.

Initiatives such as the OverDrive WIN Catalog are re-engaging publishers with the potential benefits of having an eBooks presence in the library market.

A world where people lived in electronic connectivity but physical isolation seems too Kafkaesque and I cannot bring myself to say library buildings will no longer be needed.  But I do think they will be radically different, and there will be a need for community spaces as has been alluded to in previous posts on this blog. What may not be needed are huge amounts of shelving space.  Libraries will not only have a reader development function but possibly a skills development one too.

These places need to be welcoming and attractive to entice users in, most likely open plan and shared, where disciplines mix. One example of this is the new Digital Peninsula at North Greenwich, another is the digital skills sharing programme just launched by the Reading Agency and the Publishers Association.

The virtual world is exciting, especially if we embrace new developments, update and enhance our skills, get involved and attempt to steer progress rather than standing on the sidelines. Nothing ever changed by sticking with the status quo.  The  virtual world is a new frontier to be explored, to increase the scope of libraries and secure their place in the community.

Digital advances will revolutionise what services libraries offer and how we deliver these services. It is actually an inspiring time to be a librarian and information specialist.

Barbara Scott is a librarian working for Surrey County Council Libraries.  She project managed the introduction of Surrey Libraries eBook Services and is a qualified Information Manager.  She works on projects for the council’s Virtual Team and the Property Environment and Stock Team
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Guest post #7 – The library unchained, by Chris Meade

At the weekend I met a man who is restoring a Wurlitzer juke box, recreating a beautiful device, fascinating to old music lovers like me, but clearly redundant as a means to deliver tunes to the populace.

if:book UK has been at the forefront of debate over the past few extraordinary years in which ebook sales have soared and many analogue bookshops fallen by the wayside. Those who swore never to read on screens now clutch their Kindles lovingly, and authors of all sorts are pondering self publishing, with perhaps some multimedia enhancements.

As writers, we don’t need publishers and we don’t need libraries like we used to. With a laptop and wifi anyone can write and broadcast their words to a potentially global audience, and trawl through oceans of freely available information and content. It’s shocking that so many of those whose work is about broadening access to culture still find it hard to acknowledge the amazing advances taking place in what we’re all supposed to care about most: free access to information and culture. Too much of the discussion  around libraries feels like a get together of Wurlitzer fans, nostalgic for a lost cause, not champions of the best means of access to knowledge in the 21st Century.

We’re all Nearlywriters now, able to publish our words whenever we wish, and therefore fully responsible for deciding when what we’ve written is fully cooked and ready to be shared. And we’re Unlibrarians, with a massive collection of information online that we try to navigate our way through, aided by search engines, colleagues and friends, learning on our own terms, mapping our own development.

In that light, what shines out is the need for state provision of what used to be seen as the trappings around the core of public library services.

Now more than ever our communities vitally need a local breathing space, free to enter and ours by right, an actual place in which we can think freely, in public, amongst others, and find collaborators and coaches to help us further our intellectual and imaginative interests. If the State refuses to fund these spaces, then the motivated will create their own. But what then of all those with issues and frailties which define them as problems to the State but find in their library a space where they are treated as citizens first?

The library needs to take inspiration from the qualities of the social network. It should be a place to put your profile, to define your interests and goals, for yourself and to a wider community; a safe place to local and meet like minds and potential collaborators; a flexible space for thinking writing and reading, alone and in groups, quiet enough for those who come here to escape a noisy home; active enough for those who are fed up with staring in silence at their four walls. Here we can ‘click’ on fellow users as we would on their icons online, to read more about them and send a message if we want to connect with them.

Connected on line, members can easily pool resources and expertise, arranging meet ups wherever there’s room. Sites promoting this kind of collaborative consumption go back to the birth of libraries when academics shared lists of the books in their homes for students to visit and borrow.

Nobody used to come to libraries for the reassuring smell of books – they wanted knowledge and grew fond of the whiff of inspiration and empowerment which they imparted.

Chris Meade is a writer and Director of if:book UK, (www.ifbook.co.uk) a think and do tank exploring the future of the book which recently set up the if:book cafe at Hornsey Library in north London. He was previously Director of Booktrust and  The Poetry Society, and for twelve years worked in public libraries, as arts officer for Birmingham and Sheffield libraries where he was a pioneer of reader development, promoting libraries as an imagination service.
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Guest post #6 – Social media is becoming vital to real-world relationships, by Mandeep Hothi

Discounting the instances that I have been to my local library to collect parking permits, the last meaningful time I was in a library was about five months ago.

I was there to talk to librarians about social media. Despite lots of digital stuff happening in their neighbourhood, the library weren’t really trying to engage through social media. The staff lacked the skills, confidence and energy to do it.

What they really wanted, they told me, was for a highly visible, large online community to materialise for them to engage with. The thought of cultivating their own online networks was out of the question due to pressures on their time; it wasn’t a priority and they couldn’t see the value in it.

Were they right to dismiss it so readily? They were clearly feeling the strain of increased demands from the council on the services they needed to deliver (including handing out parking permits). But I think that the failure to divert some resources towards the use of social media will turn out to be a mistake.

This is not because social media is a quick fix. Our own research at the Young Foundation shows it requires a lot of work and time to build up an audience and engage in meaningful dialogue. The staff members that use social media need to feel comfortable and confident using it, and operate without excessive control from their superiors. And ultimately the number of local people that you are engaging may only be around ten per cent of the local population.

There are two reasons I think that it was a mistake. Firstly, I think social media could do wonders for the library ‘brand’ and secondly, an engaged audience of around ten per cent of the population will prove to be invaluable.

Whilst the library as a brand is certainly embedded in local life, for many non-users of libraries that brand has become outdated.  Social media can change this by giving libraries a persona that is relevant and energised; one that instigates dialogue amongst varied audiences. If libraries can engage with a sense of humour (dry wit and self-deprecation come to mind), people would really start to question their assumptions about these places they used to go when they were kids.

This re-branding will only work if it reflects people’s experiences of using the service. The best thing about social media is the stuff that it causes offline; namely, the connections with people. Libraries which embrace online engagement will get closer to their physical community, by building upon the online experience – one that is characterised by conversation, expression, personalisation and sharing.

These are characteristics which libraries already possess but are not entirely comfortable with. By 2022 this identity crisis will surely have resolved itself and when it does, social media will be libraries’ new best friend.

Mandeep Hothi is a programme leader at the Young Foundation and is currently researching how the internet can connect local communities and neighbourhoods
 

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Guest post #5 – Libraries for learning for life, by John Dolan

In early years a child is joyfully open to accumulate knowledge, skills and habits. Habits nurtured in early years evolve as a way of life. A diverse and sustained learning life lasts into old age, enriching experience and maintaining health, capacity and reward. In between these years, a capacity to learn and an appetite for discovery means a better working life, a healthier lifestyle, adaptability to change and a fuller contribution to society both economically and socially.

Many influences surround such a paradigm, but the potential of libraries to appear at all stages of this lifelong progression is understood. Alongside institutional libraries centred on education, public libraries appear and reappear along this life route as the first resource for the learning that people do of their own volition, for work, family, community or personal fulfilment.

The research that led to Bookstart – bringing home to parents the value of loving reading to babies and toddlers – demonstrated that children who took part are more ready to read and learn when they reach school. The powerful impact of a good school is indisputable. Still, children spend less than 20% of their waking hours in school from birth to school leaving age. The rest of the time the public library should be the resource for learning and discovery.

Further education is adapting to a mobile and remote student community following a complex mix of study modules, accumulating skills perhaps over several years, as needs arise. In higher education libraries are better at demonstrating their critical influence on graduate achievement.

In all stages of study the institutional library runs alongside the student, learner and researcher – just in time. Running in tandem with this should be the public library, for lifelong learning – just in case.

The public library system is a huge resource: 4,000 outlets, networked, packed with resources and staffed by skilled, empathetic information and knowledge workers. How to maximise reach and impact? Storytelling every week? It should be every morning and afternoon. Outreach projects? Community engagement should be the norm.

National recovery? A cache of research, case studies and prize-winning innovation already exists, showing the impact of libraries on the learning lives of children, families, unemployed people, disabled people, excluded groups, victims of crime, victims of the causes of crime and so on.

In a mobile, digital era with multiple family structures, uncertain economy and shifting global wealth, the cost of refreshing this amazing giant outweighs the irresponsible loss of not building on past investment. There is a unique chance in the enhanced use of this extraordinary package of infrastructure, skills, experience and, above all, the non-judgemental culture of an increasingly rare open democratic public space.

How could this happen? Shared recognition across government. Leadership for a framework and action plan. Partnerships across sectors. A modernisation plan. National programmes for variable delivery according to place or community of need. An updated corpus of knowledge for the working library, information and knowledge community serving our learning needs.

John Dolan OBE, ran libraries in St Helens and Birmingham. He is now an independent advisor on libraries and community regeneration, and also a CILIP Councillor.
 

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