The report

The Carnegie UK Trust have produced a report on  public libraries called A New Chapter: public library services in the 21st Century.    The Trust explains its reasons and research thus:

“The Trust, with its long history of support for the public library system has not been actively involved in this area since 1950, but the level of concern about the future of public libraries has prompted us to revisit this area. The Trust commissioned research throughout the UK and the Republic of Ireland which shows that people still love their libraries – but the Trust argues that public libraries can’t stand still in a changing world: the public library service is at a crossroads and change is needed to respond to reduced levels of public spending, the challenges and opportunities of the digital age, and changes in people’s lifestyles and patterns of behaviour.”

It is partly based on an IPSOS Mori poll of 1000 people in each of Eire, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales. This is the first time that people in all five areas have been separately surveyed on their attitudes in this area. It is thus reassuring that two-thirds of those asked, throughout the nations, said libraries were either very important or essential to their community.  It’s also reassuring that roughly half the respondents said they used the service in the last year with even non-users agreeing on the importance of libraries.

Things that jumped out for me were:

  • “The places which currently demonstrate the strongest commitment to public libraries, with new openings and renovations, appear to be those where the role of libraries has been very closely
    identified with the other key objectives of local authorities.”
  • A need for greater leadership in each nation.  This could mean, amongst other things, co-ordinated promotion of library services, something has been very obvious by its absence for years.
  • Each nation is approaching things differently and they should “learn from eachother”.  Thus, Wales, lucky Wales, has library standards; Northern Ireland has a single library authority; Eire suffered major cuts; Scotland has apparently suffered the least while England is enduring cuts and has come up with several different answers (private, Trust, volunteers, etc) as to how to keep a service open with radically less money.
  • More research and consultation will be produced by the Carnegie UK Trust. This will be the fourth this year, after this one, one from Arts Council England and one from the Labour Party.  Seasoned library campaigners will be groaning in pain at this point but, at least, it keeps libraries in the news.

The full report goes into this in more detail.  It is an interesting document, not least because it tries to be as uncritical of the current situation as possible.  Words like “crisis” are not used.  Ed Vaizey can breathe a sigh of relief as he is not mentioned, let alone criticised.  The reports even have good thing to say about the otherwise derided and insignificant Future Libraries Programme.  

For those campaigners who may see the Carnegie Trust as a natural ally, be prepared to be disapponted.  The phrase “community hub” – often code for a community centre with a few books in it – is often used.  The final paragraphs conclude with the line that the public needs to have “greater involvement in and acceptance by local communities of decisions about the redesign of public services, including public library services”.  Many would say that they would love greater involvement but are often rebuffed by authorities who have already made up their mind.  The Trust also appears to suggest by the words …
“In carrying out this work, the Trust will not be constrained by a historic model of the library service, or by the historic legacy of buildings created with support from Andrew Carnegie or the Trust. Library services will not be considered on their own, but as part of a local authority’s response to the needs and priorities of particular communities.”
… that users need to realise that library services are not necessarily best served by library buildings. The experience of the last two years shows that this is not a popular point of view amongst library users. 

Further reviews and comments on the report

  • Call Kaye – BBC Radio Scotland (3.49 to 9:52 plus other pieces throught programme).  Liz MacDonald, author of report, interviewed, says Trust coming from “library loving” perspective.  Says Trust can do nothing about Carnegie libraries which are under threat.  Some library services are “a little bit stagnating” but others are good.  Danger that services will die by a thousand cuts so there is a need for a strategy.  “We do have this fantastic network of libraries across the country, they are really important community spaces … there’s huge potential there.”.  Assistant Director of Scottish Libraries Council says libraries are having technologies being introduced and that Scottish libraries are increasing in visits (up 2.5% last year). 
  • Carnegie UK Trust warns libraries “must adapt” – BBC.  Chief executive Martyn Evans said: “It’s clear that people in Scotland still love their libraries, but library services need to develop innovative ways of attracting visitors and providing a new range of relevant services, along with a re-think about how the buildings are used as community hubs. “Libraries need to be able to demonstrate the impact they have on a wide range of social indicators such as health and wellbeing, employment, and digital inclusion.””
  • Libraries are “essential” to communities, according to majority of Scots – STV.  “The trust said a number of councils have shown examples of “good practice”, including Orkney’s use of social media, South Ayrshire’s e-publishing initiative and the City of Edinburgh Council’s smartphone app, which shows library locations, events, bus links and other information.”
  • Libraries may adapt or die, says report – Herald Scotland.   “Crime writer Ian Rankin also backed the calls, saying it was crucial that Scottish libraries move forward. The Rebus author said: “Technology and changes in the way we live are impacting hugely on what communities want and need from libraries. “It’s crucial the services they provide adapt and evolve so they remain as treasured in the future as they are now, providing a free yet invaluable service that underpins education, creativity and lifelong learning. “It’s heartening to see this work by the trust give us a sound starting point for a critically-important debate about the role of libraries.”

“Annie Mauger, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, said: “As public library services face a series of challenges and opportunities, a fresh vision for public libraries in the 21st century is urgently needed. “We welcome the contribution the Carnegie UK Trust can make to developing this vision as well as promoting forward thinking, and supporting creative and innovative practice in public library services.”

“… there’s a real danger of momentum being lost as cuts bite. We need a national vision for improvement, working alongside and informing local authorities’ responsibilities, to keep up this momentum, and we  need to look at new approaches to funding it. Wales offers a useful template.  In the meantime, we’re relieved and excited that models of collective working are holding up – 98% of library services are gearing up for our massive Summer Reading Challenge, which is expected to involve 780,000 children, and is part of the Olympics 2012 festival. It’s time governments took libraries’ reading for pleasure role much more seriously.  We agree there are massive opportunities for libraries to contribute to the health agenda, and are helping libraries innovate to develop new services …” Miranda MacKearney, The Reading Agency (press release).

  • Survey: Northern Ireland has lowest library use in UK – BBC.   “Research from the Carnegie UK Trust found that 40% of people in NI had used a library in the last year. Scotland had the highest level of usage at 61%, while the levels in England and Wales were 50% and 45% respectively.”
  • Three in four Scots believe their local library is essential – Scotsman.   One comment says “Far from being a ‘dead tree depository’, public libraries serve as community centres, and if you have ever been in a library during Children’s Hour and watched the awe spread across the face of a new reader as heshe holds their loaned book in their hands, you wouldn’t call the library a ‘dead tree depository’, but the gateway to a lifelong journey of wonder. My local has recently had to shorten opening hours due to council budget cuts. Worse is the news that some councils are refusing to permit volunteers to help keep libraries open! Libraries are the lifeblood in a community in countless, unheralded ways; when one closes the community begins to erode.”


  • Conservatives defend cuts to Archives Canada –  “Responding to criticism that budget cuts are undermining the ability of Library and Archives Canada to preserve Canada’s documentary heritage, a spokesman for Heritage Minister James Moore said Thursday that efforts to digitize the collection will give Canadian taxpayers greater access while saving them money.”
  • How we became a school that reads – Guardian.  “Supporting reading is not about getting through a 400 page novel, it is about opening up the opportunities for young people to experience as many different types of texts and different types of content as possible to develop their reading, comprehension and critical reasoning skills but also to simply to broaden their horizons.”
  • PLR mustn’t stand for Pointless Lousy Reform – Times (behind paywall).  Sir Michael Holroyd says “”not the only attack on our library culture”.
  • Read this book – Sharon Boyd.    “I have just finished reading The Library Book and it is brilliant. I’m not normally quite this determined about something, but if education and social equality are important to you too, you have to read this and you’ll see why I’m so set on encouraging everyone to do so and to defend their libraries.”
  • Reading Agency and The Publishers Association launch Digital Skills Sharing Programme – Reading Agency. “The project will run until January 2013 and aims to provide library services with new digital skills and the confidence to innovate. The overarching aim is to help librarians develop and enhance digital skills, enabling the library sector to amplify its work with existing audiences and develop new audiences in diverse ways, appropriate to a C21st library service. The project is funded by Arts Council England, as part of its Library Development Initiative”

Local news

  • Brent – Our youngest volunteer – Friends of Barham Library.  You are never too young or old to help at the Barham Volunteer Library. 7 year old Gabriella for example has helped by reading stories to other children. We need people to display Posters about our Library in their windows or simply spending an hour at our Library helping with reading, colouring in, the quiz or anything else.”
  • Hampshire – Success story of electronic books – This is Hampshire.    “More than 5,000 e-books and e-audios are checked-out every month, making the county council the busiest online library service in the country.” … “But the number of printed books borrowed fell by 0.3 per cent in 2011-12 and by 37 per cent compared with nine years ago. About 6.4 million books were issued by Hampshire’s libraries in 2011-12 compared with 10.2 million in 2002-3.” … “There were more than 6.3 million visits in 2011-12 up five per cent on the previous year.”