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What next for the local library?

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Will Gompertz | 16:05 UK time, Friday, 27 August 2010

When was the last time you visited your local library? Last week? Last month? Last year? Never?

My colleague David Sillito produced this excellent piece on the subject earlier this week after a report by the Department of Culture, Media & Sport showed that visits to public libraries are in decline. It reveals that the proportion of adults who went to a public library at least once in a year has fallen from nearly 50% in 2004/05 to under 40% in 2009/10. The numbers who go to a library every week has dropped by a third in five years.

Library bookCheap books, easy online shopping and digital downloads have all been cited as causes of the slump. It's a downturn that has not gone unnoticed by politicians and local councils who are keen to cut costs. Libraries are beginning to seem like an expensive luxury.

Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Culture said recently:

"I hope we don't get hung up about library buildings. There's always a feeling that if a library closes, that's it, it's the end of the world. So there will be some re-shaping of library services but I do think it is important that we think imaginatively about where libraries could be. I wouldn't even have a problem, for example, if there was a library in a pub."

A pub? Really? How does that work? A pint of bitter, a bag of crisps and a copy of Ulysses please, barman. And how would granny react when she came round to see little Tommy and help him with his homework, only be told that he was down the pub with his mates and wouldn't be back for hours?

Actually it is working at the George and Dragon in Doncaster, but only because they have the support of the Library Services. So it's really an extension of an existing service, a bit of "outreach", as opposed to being an entity in itself.

Another idea being considered is relocating the local library to the local supermarket. On the face of it that might seem like a sensible idea, but again isn't without problems. Supermarkets have become one of the country's most successful book retailers, a profitable business. Why would they swap swiping cash-yielding bank cards for not-for-profit library cards? And to do both would surely create a conflict of interest.

But then is closing buildings the answer to the falling usage of our public libraries? Run differently, more imaginatively perhaps, could they not provide the sort of environment in which an idea such as the Big Society might thrive?

The public's interest in books is certainly not waning; if anything, it's growing. Book clubs, book festivals and book tours have all boomed in the past decade. When the Edinburgh International Book Festival started 26 years ago, there were only a handful of book festivals in the UK. Now there are over 300.

And there are some very successful public libraries. The Ideas Store in Tower Hamlets, which is now being turned into a brand across east London, has over 700,000 visits a year and regularly has queues of people waiting to get in. This in an area where many people have only the most basic education and more than a hundred languages are spoken.

How do they do it? Simple. By fusing the idea that made bookshops and book festivals so popular. They have talks, lectures, courses and a staff whose focus is the visitor experience. There are promotional displays of books put out on tables. And they serve a decent cup of coffee. As people leave classes they are encouraged to borrow books on their way out.

Too many libraries are stuck in the last century, offering poor service, indistinguishable aisles of books, outdated administrative systems and an oppressive, intimidating atmosphere. Their only concession to the 21st Century is often a huge reduction in the books they carry, which have been replaced by banks of faceless computers.

They could take a leaf out of the School of Life's book. The small London-based adult-education organisation offers the services of a bibliotherapist, a book reading specialist, who will discuss your reading life - past, present and future - and then make suggestions of books you might like to try.

For communities, a local library is like a local school: you might use it only rarely if at all, but you know it is important, that it represents a set of ideals and a way of life that puts learning and understanding at their centre. And like a church, the building is important, providing a visual statement on behalf of the community that would be lost inside a pub or a supermarket.

Ed Vaizey has just launched a new initiative called the Future Libraries Programme, aimed at increasing innovation, efficiency and seeking imaginative new ways of working. Perhaps the imaginative answer to the decline in the public's usage of their libraries is not to accept it as inevitable and reduce investment and close buildings. But to do the opposite and use them as a tool for galvanising communities, not by turning them into social centres or community centres but into knowledge centres.

A place where old and young, rich and poor, can come and exercise their brains and share ideas. The success of the Idea Stores suggests people will come, whatever the size of the society.


  • Comment number 1.

    My husband and I regularly take our two children (aged 6 and 4) to the library and have recently challenged ourselves to visit as many libraries in Staffordshire as we can. The children love seeing what new stories they can find as well as how they are stored - such as in wooden cars or trains with fluffy cushions or huge foam dice to sit on. As for the adults, we love seeing the variety of books available and just browsing. Lichfield library has a coffee machine and, if time had allowed us that day, I could see us having stayed there with coffees and hot chocolates in hand whilst having story time.
    Every school I've worked in has ensured that the children have library visits and, if continued with their family, should give them a lifelong interest in books. Librarys in Sainsburys or the pub just wouldn't be the same. They wouldn't be quiet or comfy enough for a start. Fluorescent lighting gives me migraines anyway so trying to choose books in a supermarket would be a nightmare.
    Keep libraries as they are. Use them to promote education and fun, be it through school trips, family activity days, summer reading schemes or puppet shows. We love them and I'm sure we're not the only ones.

  • Comment number 2.

    Libraries should stay in purpose built buildings but they should stock more books and far less computers. My library does not charge even a nominal fee for computer usage but charges for ordering a book; this doesn't make sense. Now I no longer work I hope to visit the library more often but they do need to have more fiction on the shelves. I love books and buy most of them. I have 2 book shelves to accommodate those that were in boxes. I can't get rid of any. I would never, no matter how cheap the book was, buy one from a supermarket; they have taken too much from other retailers as it is.

  • Comment number 3.

    Libraries are havens for unemployed and poorer (students, retired folks on state incomes, disabled, etc) members of society where they can access services (internet, newspapers, training) in a warm, clean and quiet environment with unlimited free entertainment (books of all sorts). This function is unique in modern britain.
    Croydon Central Library was a lifesaver for a family friend of mine who lost her job in 2009 and suffered reactive depression as a result. the library provided a place away from home where she could lose herself at no cost.
    putting libraries in supermarkets would not work due to the contrast of those on low incomes versus blatant commercialism
    libraries are a treasure and should be preserved. agree that they need to be more market sensitive to attract younger and more affluent members to achieve a broad user base but this balance against the above social imperatives is delicate and requires real understanding of many complex issues by Council service managers.

  • Comment number 4.

    I think Libraries need to reinvent themselves and part of the problem is they are dated now.

    Books will never go away despite what the eReader supporters tell you, but eReaders are increasing. How about libraries how rentals of eBooks? The coffee shop idea is definitely great as well. I see so many people reading in coffee shops that it makes good sense to combine the two.

  • Comment number 5.

    I used to love the library as a kid, and after years of buying paperbacks I finally ventured into my local one. HUGE building...figured it'd be crammed with books. Nope. Sure, there was space to study, computers...but the actual adult fiction section was miserable. I even offered to donate some paperbacks and they said they had enough!

    A total shame, as there is the room for the books, and it looked like half the collection was unshelved, sitting on carts. Sure, having a cafe is a plus, but I go to the library for books. Sure, it'd be great to check out ebooks to my reader from home, but I go to the library for books. My local library where I grew up in the States had more books crammed into 1 floor than this one has on 2. It's a travesty to see such waste when the building could be stuffed full of books that I know it does not have. Multiple copies of books. Whole series.

    Bring back GOOD libraries and people will go.

  • Comment number 6.

    I stopped using my local library years' ago, because of the amount of kids, yobs and druggies that frequented it.A library used to be a place where you could go for some peace and quiet, reflection and study. The worst thing that ever happened was allowing computers in them. Now they are anything but peaceful places. The rise of the internet has not helped either. Libraries were okay when books were expensive, now I can pick up a book cheaply in a charity shop. I'd be sorry if the local library ever closed, but if it did, I doubt if it would be missed.

  • Comment number 7.

    The Ideas Store is indeed in Tower Hamlets, but it isn't in a poor area - it is within Canary Wharf. When I have been in I have only ever seen bankers idling away a couple of minutes before returning to the office.

  • Comment number 8.

    I use a number of London libraries. They come in two types.

    The first is embodied by almost any one of Lambeth Libraries (for example). These have a number of different facilities. The basic ideas of stocking books and quiet spaces in which to read them are the core service around which all else is built.

    The second are like the Ideas Factory in your article, or the recently (re)opened John Harvard Library on Borough High Street. This is an attractively bustling, marketplace-style home for people wanting to access all manner of media. Books are just one part of the open plan arrangement. I find both useful as well as heartening.

    Of course both these types of libraries are council owned and run as libraries. The one issue that your article - and others commenting on it - is right to flag up is the nature of the building and what it represents. A dedicated building, maintained statutorily is deeply important, irrespective of the manner in which it is used. Should government start discussing the incorporation of libraries into buildings or businesses not constructed primarily for that purpose, then there's trouble ahead - especially if sweetened with the duplicitous term-of-spin "choice".

  • Comment number 9.

    I think libraries are the victims of the idea that public spaces that have rules must be exclusive and to be inclusive they must have few or no rules. I don't bother visiting my local library anymore because it really isn't a good environment for study. I find them noisy, dull and municipal in character and larger bookshops these days allow you the opportunity to sit and read books, or take a pile to an attached cafe without the hassles you get in public libraries. Probably to do with money and probably to do with anxieties about appearing 'relevant' (whatever that means - perhaps offering lines of meow meow before it got banned?) libraries appear to have become a catch-all general social space where the local council can run all sorts of services to key groups. That intention may be fine, but in the end it blunts the very idea of a space for quiet study. Everywhere in our urban environment there is noise. Libraries were the last secular space, perhaps the equivalent of a church, where one of the pleasures in life is to just come and 'be' for a while, enjoy the quiet hum of people reading or learning and do some yourself. It's a pity that core purpose seems to have been forgotten.

    That last point, I think has little to do with them being 'public' either. My local library is run by a private contractor (known for as a public service provider). Seeing it's own website and that of my local library hardly makes the heart jump. Perfunctory pretty much nails it. It ticks the box of 'appearing' as what a library is suppose to do, but ultimately it just goes through the motions. With a bit of vision and probably not too much cash, things could so easily be better. With the so called 'efficiency' of the market, my local librarians now have another tier before they can just do their job. In the name of diversity in provision, there's also no set standards. Very few libraries seem to have Wifi, which would be so much more useful than out of date computers to get 20 minutes on. If you're a job seeker, being able to use the internet is essential. Likewise a suitable bolt hole is required to get through those testing times. Current libraries are not up to the job and handing their services over to pubs, or supermarkets will not improve the situation at all. Killing libraries will not reduce the demand for social spaces that you don't have to pay just to be there. If people were bound by some rules of discretion when using them, they'd be in a far more desirable state than we find them.

  • Comment number 10.

    Such a shame that libraries have to be connected to consumerism in order to have value. But, that's the way the world works I guess and there's nothing us individuals can do about it.

  • Comment number 11.

    Charles-Parker: There are several Ideas Stores within Tower Hamlets, and the Canary Wharf one was one of the later ones built. It sounds like the reporter is talking about the one at Whitechapel, which is the biggest, definitely in a poor area, and fits the criteria of a lot of local people with only a basic education and a large number of languages spoken.

    It might also be Bow (first one built), or possibly Chrisp Street. Chrisp Street is also a poor area, with lots of languages spoken. It's sited about fifteen minutes walk from your office (five minutes on the DLR), but most of the bankers you speak of will have never, ever been there.

    They're good libraries. As well as the books on the shelves, you can log in to the catalogue and reserve any book in any Tower Hamlets library for free. And I often find myself picking books from the 'promotional' table that I'd never have thought of reading.

  • Comment number 12.

    The problem with books in a domestic or indeed office environment is that they need to be filed carefully to remain useful, if they are works of reference or disposed of after use if they are ephemera.

    Libraries are great as they put the books back on the shelves. I recall regularly using the Round Reading Room of the British Library and similar institutions in Washington and Paris over many years. This cataloguing of knowledge is perhaps the most valuable activities of libraries - the catalogue is their greatest work. The old paper catalogue of the British Library were magnificent works in their own right entries for every work held with its shelf-mark, many with entries in the language and using character set of the original work.

    The modern tragedy is that all too often libraries substitute an electronic index and make available only facsimiles of works. I vividly recall ordering the personal prompt copies of several plays that can with manuscript amendments and notes by the author - I recall Sir Arthur Wing Pinero's The Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith or was it The Second Mrs Tanqueray that was particularly enlightening I forget.

    I am also presently quite concerned that the access to original newspapers is being drastically curtained by the British Library. The electronic or microfilm versions are simply inadequate. The loss of the very valuable information of the original can be likened to reading an original Magna Carta and the ascii text of the same document, but this is what the vandals at the DCMS and their agents the British Library are intent on doing - the wanton destruction of a hugely valuable internationally significant and probably the greatest newspaper library in the World - a bit like the destruction of the Library of Alexandria - yet the British Library Newspaper Library is to die this year without a whimper!

    This attitude to libraries permeates right down to the local level. The local library (and its index) are where knowledge is stored. Googling and Wikipedia are no substitute for they bother permit the invisible rewriting of history. There is no evidence of a change and always someone somewhere at some time will want to alter history. The Internet is not a form of palimpsest that shows alterations - they just vanish. This is why real physical libraries are vital. Without libraries knowledge becomes perverted to the desires of the present power group - history is invisibly rewritten. Everyone should have free access to libraries - that is the only way to protect our society from tyrants and subjugation.

  • Comment number 13.

    Our local library is terrific and I go there at least once a week, usually with my 4-year-old son. There are computers but they are not a disruption. The stock of books is obviously limited compared to what you can get on Amazon, but for kids there are plenty, and for adults there is the option of ordering something from a different branch which is pretty easy to do. There are lots of good events and it is as much about something to do with young children for a couple of hours as anything else, very cheap entertainment and a walk out too.

    I think the pub idea is a bit of a joke, I didn't use the library much before I had kids so perhaps they need to consider how non-family friendly this model is; also a supermarket haha I would give that a bodyswerve too.

  • Comment number 14.

    Some pubs have had informal libraries for years: shelves on the end, where books come and go. The range is often better than a library's, too.

    I first read One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich and The Complete Plain Words in an unassuming pub, over a pint, in the middle of a housing estate in Cambridge. No support from Library Services, either.

    Our library has neither: it has many copies of Dan Brown novels, just like Tescos. The county library system, though, was a great enabler of social mobility. As a kid I used to spend hours there, as I enjoyed reading and my school wasn't up to much. It helped me get to University.

    It was full of useless books like perfume dictionaries and introductions to tea bag collecting. All grist to the mill, though, and I'm not sure that pyramids of trashy novels would have had the same effect.

    But with a big comfortable population blip reaching a financial peak, it's understandable why something which aids social mobility is being targeted, as they wind up the drawbridge!

    Lending books for free (in most other media probably some kind of copyright crime), is only likely only survive as an activity where it has no attention from technologists, lawyers, politicians or journalists.

    Like in obscure corners of pubs.

  • Comment number 15.

    The libraries here in Christchurch, New Zealand are amazing. They can be noisy at times but the main aim is to get people inside, to get them using the facilities and especially to get them reading books. It also offers access to the wider world through computers allowing those who do not have or cannot afford them to look for work, study or simply entertain themselves. It is part of the City Council and employs specialised children's librarians who run sessions for adults and babies, school holiday programmes and who liaise with schools. There is an outreach service which selects and makes up crates of books to be collected by residential homes for the elderly. There is a mobile library which visits parts of the City outside the catchment areas of the branch libraries and also some of the poorer areas to encourage library membership. It is also available to visit events as an advertisement for the Library Service.

  • Comment number 16.

    (quick addendum to earlier post - Ideas Store, not Factory, possibly an important semantic difference in the context of this discussion, sorry)

    It seems to me that what is important about Silito's, and consequently Will's piece is that there seems to be a hang up over books. As one or two contributors have already pointed out, the services provided by a library extended from books and all manner of journals, prints and other published media to provision of the space in which to consume these.

    Over 5 years ago when the Raynes Park library (borough of Merton in South London) was being overhauled, two sizeable shelves of books from the library were made available on a return-or-replace basis at the train station opposite. There were no staff or self-checking protocols in place, just an assumption that books would be returned or replaced. Once the novelty of the arrangement waned, the situation was at the mercy of those who would have a source of reading material and those who need loo paper.

    Checks are in place at a bookshop or supermarket: one must purchase a book to take it off the premises. Similarly, internet cafes & bars with WiFi make the implicit demand that access to this service is contingent on custom.

    It seems to me that a library provides a space, services and stock (but not product, hence contrition over earlier 'Factory' error) that have none of the cachet of consumption or exclusive ownership. Instead it promotes a mutually assured media stock guaranteed - albeit nominally - by the system of reservation, finite-period lending, fines and internet firewalls, as well as the traditionally hushed space in which to concentrate on it all. Someone mentioned that libraries seem to have eschewed WiFi provision. On reflection this seems consistent with all of this, after all, I've never gone to a library to read one of my own books, occupying a seat (= bandwith) that someone trying to actually use the library might otherwise have needed.

    Ed Vaizey is right to pay attention to the new ways in which we congregate to consume media. However, this probably has little to do with any perceived failings of the public library model and more to do with our attitude towards and ability to own stuff.

  • Comment number 17.

    Why not look at the 'decline' in library use against the number of local libraries that have already been closed down or reduced their opening hours in the last five years? If there is no or limited library service it is going to follow that library visits will decline. It is the knee-jerk reaction of local councils and government to close libraries to save costs rather than looking at how the money is currently spent. There have been periods of 'belt tightening' over the past 40 years but local libraries remained.

    Local councillors seem to declare that they need their 100k plus salary to save them from being poached by private sector when in in no way would their apparent limited outlook and money management skills hold any weight. Where they do seem to be skillful is declaring the closure of libraries without holding proper public consultations, closing them by stealth.

    Public local libraries, with books and a librarian, are a keystone to a civilised society. As a former 'Librarian' (of the Oxford Union) himself Ed Vaizey should be aware of the importance of books and buildings, something he seems keen to deny the public.

  • Comment number 18.

    I use my local library regularly and also share an awful lot of books with friends. I rarely buy a new book and get the majority of them from charity shops or car boot sales, where I can often get 3 paperbacks for £1. One thing I've often wondered is how do authors benefit from books loaned by libraries? Also, do libraries pay full price for books? If so, why don't they consider accepting good quality used recently published books from their users?

    I agree that charging to order a book but making no charge for so many other services seems a bit strange when the original purpose of libraries was and should still be, to lend books.

  • Comment number 19.

    Lord Spring Onion comments : "I think the pub idea is a bit of a joke, I didn't use the library much before I had kids so perhaps they need to consider how non-family friendly this model is; also a supermarket haha I would give that a bodyswerve too."

    I thought so too, but when I circulated my personal view that the edit of the Minister, Ed Vaizey's, remarks on a recent BBC Breakfast meant that his piece to camera seemed unworthy of his high office, and when another commentator appeared to agree, the Minister responded that we had created an "insult Ed forum". Many feel that his comments seemed to trivialise the matter under discussion. The public library service has been carefully built up during some 150 years, for all the right reasons but, with a swish of this government's tail could be dismantled in a twinkling of an eye.

  • Comment number 20.

    Here in Swindon the libraries are used to a much greater extent than the national average, partly because our excellent new Central Library is open on Sundays, when it gets a lot of use.
    However, the local Council is warning that there will be cuts in the system. They have invested £50,000 of taxpayers' money to employ a consultancy firm, who will advise about the best use of public funds.
    It may be that overall in the UK fewer people are visiting their public libraries than previously. However,we must be aware of those groups in society who are vulnerable to where cuts to Community and Mobile libraries may be made. These are the elderly who lack transport and /or those with mobility problems (we have plenty in our local Lawn area who are very dependent on the excellent Mobile service.)Also included, are mothers with young children, people living in areas of deprivation(of which there are many in the town) and as previously stated those in need of peace and quiet in a non-threatening , warm atmosphere.These obviously include students and those who are unemployed.
    People need to be warned that unless the library services are fully used now there is a chance that they may not be there in the future.
    We all need to take this message on board, whether we visit every three weeks (the length of time given before a fine), or during a shorter period of time.
    There is an excellent Story Time in several of our branch libraries. This is especially wonderful to see in areas of deprivation where the spoken word, used expressively, is in short supply, and in these instances although the Story time is labelled for 5 year olds and under and their parents, I have been amused to see several teenage boys craning round from their computer use to catch sight and sound of the story being read with such aplomb!!!
    No doubt they would deny this fact vigorously!
    We do need to hang on to these uses in a library, not just a hired space in a supermarket or pub.Once facilities are lost they are unlikely ever to be returned. USE it or LOSE it!!!

  • Comment number 21.

    Will G should learn to spell "aisles" correctly or get someone to proof-read his blog entries.

  • Comment number 22.

    UncleKeith : Will G's "isles" was nearer the truth than you might think. Situated in a sea of other stuff, it is often difficult to find a good selection of books in some modernised libraries.

  • Comment number 23.

    It should be acknowledged that MANY libraries across Britain have already reinvented themselves like Tower Hamlets. If you haven't been to one lately, go and see, don't just write them off as 'old fashioned' until you have properly explored them.They are often bright, welcoming, offer a range of services and events.

    You also cannot continue to only measure libraries on the number of loans they do - borrowing printed books is only one of the many things they do, and yes, declining as there are so many other ways of getting hold of books. Some are starting to offer loans of eBooks, so that will continue to grow, and access to computers is essential for those who cannot afford them for themselves.

    Shared facilities with other council services is already happening in many areas, making the building multi-functional. For instance, Worcester shares the public library with the academic library and the council's contact centre. Libraries are not resting on their laurels: the public often just don't go and see what has changed.

    A Librarian.

  • Comment number 24.

    Libraries appear to be measured by the numbers coming through the front door (including computer use, reading of newspapers etc) and also/including by the number of times people visit libraries in order to borrow or return books. This can be misleading. I normally borrow 10 or so books from a local Branch library and return them well before their time-to -pay-the -fines date, when I return to repeat the process again.
    Were I to visit more regularly ...and perhaps borrow fewer books at a time....then presumably my library footprint would be greater as i would visit more frequently and the counter by the door would thus register greater numbers.
    It seems sad to me that the situation is thus.
    No wonder library staff might feel able to wander past the counter by the door a few extra times each day, thus increasing the count.
    Who can blame them, especially as their jobs might be at risk in case of falling numbers??

  • Comment number 25.

    Cheap books? I couldn't find anything worth reading in the supermarket and Waterstone's (et al) is far too expensive, even with a 3-for-2 offer. Buying online is okay providing you know what you're getting. It seems to me libraries are the best option and only an idiot wouldn't make use of them - something which is probably reflected in the statistics.

  • Comment number 26.

    I think the main issue is that although Libraries would like to be much more open and friendly, until the local authorities and councils actually invest some money in them, they will remain run-down and unattractive. They will always be second class citizens compared to sports and leisure centres which earn an income for the councils. The whole idea of a library is not to make a profit. It is to provide a service to the local community.

    Displays and talks and children's events are all well and good, but when the buildings are drab and miserable and in need of refurbishment, there's not much the staff can do to make the library experience better.

    Unfortunately the general public have no idea just what is available in their local library and so will go to tescos or waterstones and miss out on a whole host of other services the library can offer.

    Not only are there activities for children and adults, there are also computers available, DVDs, computer games or music cds to borrow, spoken word to listen to, newspapers to read and if you can't find something, ask the staff! That's what they're there for, and most library assistants will be able to advise you much better than any Amazon description.

    It seems to me that the people who need the library service most, are the ones who are currently missing out, and the few who do manage to use the services will find themselves much deprived if the current government follows up on it's report.

    I wonder how many MPs actually use their local library? Or even know where it is?

  • Comment number 27.

    Hmmm. True, we think far too little about libraries and their purpose(s). I am used to academic libraries (University et al.) and have discovered the most amazing things in them, just by poking about on a rainy Saturday afternoon, for example. My local city library does not see me at all, but that is because I go to the University library here (Heidelberg, Germany). The thought of books in a supermarket I find simply grim. They won't be books I want to read, I am sure.
    As far as political ideas go, I often wonder how much of real life a politician is able to see. I hope the UK keeps its libraries; they are a much-needed resource, as has been put forth most eloquently - and far better than I can express - in most of the comments here.

  • Comment number 28.

    I used to to my local library, but they chucked me out for laughing. They should let us have a laugh. Some old biddies complained about us having a laugh at their clothes.

  • Comment number 29.

    I have just left my post in a public library due to a restructure in which all of the professional librarian posts have been cut. As it is a joint service with another area of the council, the remaining staff will be so busy doing all the other things they are expected to do that the idea of helping people find books they need or enjoy will just be, well, a nice idea. The non-library 'consultants' who have butchered the service lack the imagination or knowledge to see or promote the value of the library service to a community.

  • Comment number 30.

    An aspect of the threat to libraries not yet discussed here is the threat to authors. Many of us are mid-list authors who rely on our annual PLR (Public Lending Rights) to boost our income, which in most cases equates to barely the National Minimum Wage. Fewer libraries mean fewer books, and the back list of some authors is out of print and only available in libraries.

    We are also keen to do events with libraries. Some local authorities are good at this, others, including my own, woefully bad. More events, more books, fewer computers and better opening hours would surely increase footfall.

  • Comment number 31.

    The Australian public library in which I was employed 10 years ago was made a business unit with the bottom line being the justification for decisions on what was done and how. The library service became a separate business entity contracted by the local council to run the library service. This model only lasted a few years before the Council reverted to the service-of-Council way of doing things because the value to the community of free access to the public library services could not be calculated and was lost when the number crunchers compared the services being offered to tins of soups.
    In my view the value of the public library is the access to information, books of all types whether online on hard copy, newspapers and a neutral community space. It is children, the elderly and the underprivileged who need this access. This could be any one of us at some time in our lives. Where the bottom line is an issue such as pubs and supermarkets these groups would not have access unless the council were to provide them free and how much space would a business devote to a non profit service and the space would not be neutral.
    The public library where I work currently offers wi-fi access to the internet for two hours a day for library members and access to internet on the library's pcs can be booked for up to 2 hours a day. We also have e-books and on-line databases accessible to members which cannot be accessed by googling. We also offer an on-line homework help service where library members can access a qualified tutor in real time.

  • Comment number 32.

    Bookshops which stock a wide range of books in traditional format provide coffee shops for patrons to read the books without the expense of buying the book. This suggests that people are still attracted to traditional format books when they are new, displayed on shelves and free. Libraries which have only old and out of date books cannot make a judgment that people don't want books anymore unless their stock is appealing. There is a place for both electronic and paper format but the paper format needs to be chosen not merely because it provides information but because it has an interesting take on the subject. Collecting books for posterity is not what a public library is about.
    In response to Felicity Cobb on library statistics - the number of times a book is borrowed is also collected and this often determines how long the book stays in the library's collection. The total number of issues per year is then collated. Number of bodies through the door counts those who use the library space for reading newspapers, meeting friends or for a comfortable space who are not counted in the issues stats or event stats.

  • Comment number 33.

    Simon Fisher, to answer your enquiries - authors whose books are borrowerd from UK public libraries benefit from the Public Lending Right:
    Although not a huge sum, even for the likes of Jacqueline Wilson, it can be an important source of income (as someone else on here says, I believe.)
    We tend not to accept second hand books, because - as you can imagine - most library books get a fair bit of wear and tear so we like to start (at least) with fresh-looking new ones. (Personally, I love 2nd-hand books, but not in the library...)
    Library suppliers often offer discounts of greater or lesser amounts to library services.


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