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UKOLN is supported by:. Public Libraries in the 21 st century: an overview. Penny Garrod UKOLN University of Bath Bath, BA2 7AY. Email URL Contents. Introductions Brainstorming exercise: UK public libraries – where are they now?

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public libraries in the 21 st century an overview

UKOLN is supported by:

Public Libraries in the 21st century: an overview

Penny Garrod


University of Bath

Bath, BA2 7AY



  • Introductions
  • Brainstorming exercise: UK public libraries – where are they now?
  • Historical and political context: from ‘reading matter for the masses’ to the People’s Network programme
  • Libraries in transition: implications for staff
  • Examples of innovative services
  • Public Library web sites
  • Conclusions and final discussion.
some basic statistics and facts
Some basic statistics and facts
  • 3,187 public libraries in cities, towns, villages serving population of c 49 million people
  • 55-6-% of population use public libraries (rises to 70% for children & elderly people)
  • Adults and children borrow >420 million books & other items (CDs, videos) a year from public libraries
  • Multiple roles: lifelong learning; culture and research; recreation/leisure; deliver government agenda

- Access to: learning opportunities; knowledge & information; public services

- support for literacy (IT and general literacy); develop reading; provide community space etc…

historical context the legislation
Historical context: the legislation

Public Libraries Act 1850 – ‘harmless and uplifting reading matter for the masses’ [Paul Morris, Borough Librarian, Bexley 1958-1981]

Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964

    • “an act to place the public library service provided by local authorities in England and Wales under the superintendence of the Secretary of State, to make new provision for regulating and improving that service…”
  • Chris Smith is current Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) [is this department the most appropriate one for public libraries?]
the modernising agenda
The modernising agenda
  • The Government is committed to the modernisation of all public services including public libraries
  • 1964 Act cont’d :Library authorities have a duty to provide:
    • “a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring thereof”
    • “an adequate stock of books and other printed matter and media and encouraging adults and children to make full use of the library service”

“to allow access to their libraries to all comers, and their obligation to lend only to those who live or work or study full-time in their areas”

who s responsible for public libraries
Who’s responsible for Public libraries
  • Funds come from: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) – John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister
  • But…..
  • DCMS (Dept of Culture, Media and Sport) have overall responsibility for PLs
    • Dept for Education and Skills also have an interest (Lifelong Learning remit of PLs)
  • Public library service is statutory – it has been argued that they should therefore be supported by adequate public spending e.g. through allocation of funds at Government Spending Review as fundamental to government agenda re exploiting benefits of ICT…
role of dcms re source
Role of DCMS & Re:source
  • 1998 libraries required to produce Annual Library Plans
  • 2001 standards introduced to improve library services
  • public libraries role is to tackle social exclusion
    • standards for opening hours, location etc.
    • Enabling electronic access; number of ‘electronic work stations’ & visits to website [PLS 5,6 &10]

Resource – created by DCMS in 1999 - to provide ‘strategic leadership for museums, archives and libraries communities’.

[replaced Libraries and Information Commission and Museums & Galleries Commission]

role of dcms continued
Role of DCMS continued
  • DCMS (Feb) 2003: Framework for the Future: Libraries, Learning and Information in the Next Decade
    • Sets out the Government’s vision for public library service based on extensive consultation with key stakeholders
    • Three key areas of activity outlined:
    • Promotion of reading and informal learning
    • Access to digital skills and services including e-government
    • Measures to tackle social exclusion, build community identity and develop citizenship
the people s network library as physical space and cyberspace
£100 million from New Opportunities Fund (Lottery) to create 4000 ICT learning centres with broadband access to Internet, email etc. by end 2002

£20 million (NOF) to train library staff in computer literacy (ECDL) and learner support by April 2004

£50 million for NOF-digitise programme to create > 1 million digital learning objects via websites

Bill & Melinda Gates foundation provided £2.6 million for ICT learning centres in some of most deprived communities in UK

The People’s Network: library as physical space and cyberspace
ict public libraries in transition
ICT : public libraries in transition
  • Traditional services: book lending; quiet safe space to use print materials
  • Versus: ICT and e-everything:
  • People’s Network: ‘street corner universities’; ‘one stop shops’ for local/national govt info & e-services; community centres: homework clubs, adaptive technology for disabled people; services for socially excluded people
  • Greater collaboration:council departments; schools and colleges; museums & archives; private sector
  • E-Government: Electronic Service Delivery by 2005
  • Regional agenda: formation of regional councils for museums, libraries and archives e.g. SWMLAC
  • Content building: digitisation progs; portal & website development
implications for staff managers
Staff must:

gain ICT skills very quickly

be positive about new electronic services whilst traditional services

be able to cope with constant change

Offer IT support to users; adopt educational role

able to handle complaints

Managers need:

to be able to manage change effectively

broad skills mix

leadership qualities

negotiating skills: partnership working /collaboration

Project management experience

Strategic ‘out of box’ thinkers

Advocacy role

Identify champions of libraries; influence the movers and shakers

Implications for staff & managers
what do others think
What do others think?
  • Audit commission: Building better library services (May 2002)
    • criticises councils and library services for decline in use + neglect of core services e.g. spending on book stock (down a third since 1992/3), stock biased towards older people, unlikely to find bestsellers etc.
    • Recommends: making services easier and pleasanter to use – libraries should be more like bookshops
  • Peter Brophy (2003)The People’s Network: a turning point for libraries - first findings (Resource)
    • paints rosy picture but acknowledges impact of ICT on core services such as book lending and information services
    • Acknowledges Audit Commission findings but sees People’s Network as ‘turning point’ producing ‘real results’.
examples of good practice
Examples of good practice
  • Co-East :
  • A consortium of 10 library authorities located in the East of England:
  • Innovative services e.g.
  • ‘Ask a Librarian’ (virtual reference)
  • Familia: web directory of family history resources
  • ebooks project: May – Dec 2003
  • LearnEast – support for lifelong learning
  • Source-East – regional professional portal development
examples of good practice cont d
Examples of good practice cont’d
  • London Borough of Richmond upon Thames:
  • New ebooks service:
  • Adaptive technologies for disabled people

Suffolk Cyberlibrary

  • Virtual booktrolley – readers reviews etc.
  • Web for children
  • Citizens Web and Business Web

Look at the Beacon library services (Update May 2002)

web sites the library shop window
Promote new services e.g. ebooks; children’s websites/clubs etc.

Clear and consistent navigation; plain English (no library jargon)

Marketing/advocacy tool for library users and local authority+ local and national politicians

Need to meet requirements of World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) guidelines (WCAG)

E-government: Electronic Service Delivery etc. Guidelines for government websites – local authorities must comply

User-testing and feedback essential –hard to get right

Web sites: the library shop window
  • Libraries in transitional period – undergoing radical change
  • Pushed in many directions: tough decisions to be made
  • Central to government agenda – opportunity to sink or swim
  • Need politically astute and multi-skilled staff who can manage change and exploit ICT
  • Funding and sustainability of ICT – ongoing issues
  • Examples of good practice – but what about the rest? - this links to funding and profile of library services within individual local authorities.