17 Mar 2009

Libraries play crucial and growing role in recession

I came across this article below in the Local Government Association magazine - it is a useful look at libraries and I was encouraged by it's contents - indeed sent a copy to head of libraries in Gloucestershire.

Photo: old cover of MI magazine re Painswick Library - see more re that story here

Some blog readers will recall I am at present seeking funds and the go-ahead to trial a project where Household Energy Efficiency meters can be loaned from local libraries - see here. I strongly believe libraries can play a greater role in our communities not least in tackling issues like climate change - in Gloucestershire there are often threats to services - only last year there were threats to hours and more - see here. The national situation has also not been great despite folk often speaking out re the importance of libraries - see here.

It is great locally that it looks like the Painswick Gateway Project will be realised - if not it would have likely meant the loss of the library there. However we need to continue to develop a vision of how our libraries should be developed - I like the ideas below - it also seems clear that recession is ossting library usage in many areas - indeed on the web I found various evidence in the US linking economic decline and increased public library use. I also came across this Clare County blog item re more usage at their libraries.

Factors such as job seekers visiting their libraries to borrow books that may help them to qualify for new jobs or to check newspapers for vacancies could certainly have an impact on library use. More significant, perhaps, is the impact of those with less money to spend opting to borrow rather than buy their books? I wonder how Gloucestershire libraries are fairing? Anyhow here is the article....

Libraries in a digital age

In today’s world of ebooks and online encyclopedia, public libraries are increasingly shaking off their traditional image as just a quiet place for reading and book lending. Deborah Lewis looks at the future of libraries.

Free broadband internet, modern language lessons, hospital appointments and college applications are just some of the things libraries now offer. With the march of modern technology and children brought up on a diet of online learning, the traditional library is undergoing something of a makeover.

Book lending is still a defining part of a library’s role, but it is joined by many other services. In recognition of this, the government launched a modernisation review in October, and the LGA was asked to represent councils on the board, alongside the Museum, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA).

The six-month review is looking at issues including how councils can make sure libraries are offering what the public wants and needs in the future; how to make sure library staff have the skills to offer a modern service; and whether libraries should be silent places for reading or social places for people to meet and talk.

Roy Clare, MLA chief executive, said: “In 1851, the original aim of public libraries was to make information available and help people to learn. That’s still the same, but the media through which people gain information is now much more diverse. As well as ensuring a diverse information provision, Mr Clare says libraries need to tackle their infrastructure, and ensure they have a clear vision of what they want to achieve. The best public libraries are those which integrate with other public services, and respond to a community’s needs, but there’s no template. We know that health and library services work well together, but other councils offer other effective combinations, such as one stop shop council services in Truro, and further education services in Manchester’s libraries. Every area will and should be different, tailored to the population’s needs."

Tower Hamlets council opened the first of its four ‘idea stores’ in 2002, following its largest public consultation exercise. The council invested £20m in the idea stores, plus funding from sources like the Big Lottery Fund and European Regional Development Fund. The stores are in busy shopping areas and bring together libraries with classrooms, dance studios, complementary therapy suits, creches and cafes. Since the flagship Bow branch opened, the borough’s user numbers have tripled to more than two million every year, and the stores have won a series of awards.

Derbyshire county council has spent more than £1m refurbishing its libraries to install a computerised system offering public online access to books, CDs and DVDs 24 hours a day – use of which has trebled to 3,200 hits a month – and piloted a scheme which allows users to book hospital appointments online.

Libraries hit the headlines recently when Wirral council approved the closure of 11 libraries as part of a review to tackle budgetary pressures amid the economic downturn. It prompted protests from the community, but the council’s research showed many buildings were in poor condition.

Mr Clare said: "The closure of individual buildings is not in itself a bad thing, people have to realise that many of the Victorian buildings are no longer fit for purpose. But closing without an underpinning vision will lead to incoherence. The economic downturn has actually boosted user numbers, with many people researching how to gain new skills. Cumbria councils reported a 40% rise in membership in the last quarter, and Devon county council saw a 20% rise in new borrowers since last April.

"While user patterns are shifting, there is no evidence that people are not using, and do not value, their libraries," added Mr Clare.

The review’s report is due this spring, after which ministers will hold a consultation on the recommendations.

PS I am not updating this blog properly until the end of the month. I am having a 'blog holiday'. I have also changed the 'Comment' setting so that they wont be added until I return to blogging. This is one of a handful of blogs scheduled in my absence. See you soon!

No comments: