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21st century libraries
Friday, 26th March 2010
Many LiveWire readers use public libraries both in a professional capacity and for leisure purposes. However, the way we use libraries has changed considerably over the past decade. At the end of 2009, the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) launched a consultation seeking views on the future of public libraries and a recently published review outlines the responses and sets out a vision for ensuring England’s public library service is fit for the 21st century.
The full report, “Modernisation Review of public Libraries: a Policy Statement”, and associated documents can be found at http://digbig.com/5bbhgg. As an information professional, I was disappointed with the lack of specific detail on business information, having often used the collections of the Westminster Reference Library for example, and the remote access sources of my current local library.
However, the report provides interesting reading and shows how libraries can adapt with the times. It recognises that consumption of digital information is transforming the library’s role as an information provider and makes many suggestions, some of which will be enforced by law.
Legislation will be changed to ensure free internet access at libraries, preventing library authorities charging from April 2011. The Government also expects e-books to be loaned for free, and the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 will be amended to enforce this. Although there are only about 14 public libraries currently offering e-book loans, this will grow and the Government believes that libraries must embrace their digital mission as integral to their role.
Earlier this month, an article in The Guardian discussed the future of libraries in a piece on the new Birmingham public library (http://digbig.com/5bbhgh). Mike Whitby, Birmingham city council's leader, says that the new library, due to open in 2013 will be much more than just a library: “Perhaps we should call it a palazzo of human thought.” He believes the new library will buck the national trend for declining library usage and double visitor numbers.
Birmingham head of libraries, Brian Gambles, says that the strategy for achieving this is "about moving from a service-driven economy to one that is about experiential learning," with business workshops, political meetings, poetry readings, and other events, rather than just loaning out books.
At a time when large cuts in public services are looming, it is clear that the public library system, a service with declining user-numbers, may be an easy target if it does not amend its offering. However, large, high-prestige projects such as the new Birmingham library are likely to survive whilst smaller local services could suffer.
About this article:
By Anne Jordan
Anne Jordan is a freelance business information researcher and consultant with over twenty years of professional experience. She became an independent practitioner after positions in business research and research management at various City of London-based financial services institutions and management consultancy firms, including Marakon Associates, Mitchell Madison Group, Lloyds of London and Goldman Sachs. She has worked in the UK and overseas, most recently managing the client relationship with an Indian-based research organisation.
Anne can be reached at email@example.com
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