The future of libraries appears to be a theme that exercises minds on both sides of the Atlantic. From having read most of it, the main point that stands out is that the unique combination of local buildings and trusted neutral spaces mean libraries occupy an enviable position in reaching people,  Three examples of this are covered in the news today:

  • Maker Spaces.  This is currently trendy term covering a mix of basic electronics, simple machining and men in sheds.  3D printers add a bit of wow-wow sauce to it all.
  • Business Start-Up “incubators” – There’s a lot to be said for a building with trained staff, computers, phones, meeting spaces and a neutral welcoming space in the centre of town if one is a small business.  See also the recent Government initiative to use libraries as “innovation incubators” providing business support and help with intellectual property.
  • The new bookshop.  With the continued decline of the old bookshop, libraries are starting to be seen as the Last Man Standing when it comes to reader development.  This includes reading groups, author visits and explaining to people how on Earth one can use a Kindle.

Add on to this a few other strong factors and the future is looking positively bright:

  • Working with the Arts – £6 million over two years from the Arts Council to encourage locals (and not-so-locals) to discover dance, movies, panting, you name it.  This takes on an extra piquancy with the suggested loss of all Arts funding in Moray and Newcastle.
  • Online and digital access.  This is the most established of the lot, with public access machines in almost all buildings, most of the time being free at least at the start. This is going to take on a massive new impetus with the need to help people with the Universal Benefit to be introduced shortly.
  • Council catch-alls – Providing front of house service to the public on a wide range of local council issues e.g. bus passes.
  • Loads of others inc. the incredibly important one of encouraging children to read and other significant one such as health promotion.

The elephants in the room here is what will happen to the book and funding.  We can fit in some or all of the above if we get rid of all those bulky bookshelves and if we have the money.  With the whole library being bookshelves? Well, it’s more difficult.  We’ve done it before with computers so there’s a precedent. However, the book is still the core purpose of the library and where the main usage lies.  Not many people will march in the streets to save their local business start-up incubator. Libraries are therefore in the really difficult position of needing to maintain stock for the majority of users and to develop new markets.  The danger is, as I’ve seen it recently described, that libraries end up looking like a late Woolworths store, being jack of all trades and with no clear purpose.  Add on to this, the deepest cuts to public library funding in peacetime history and it’s not going to be easy to find a route through the minefield.  The good news is that there are routes through, The bad news is that if libraries take the wrong move, the scenery may go bang.



  • Did you know that 85% of e-books aren’t available to public libraries? – Shelf Free. “Below is a list of the top 50, most borrowed adult fiction books of 2012.  Out of the top 50, only seven were available for us to buy as e-books – and even then it depended on which supplier the library service was signed up to.  With one supplier, only two titles were available”

  • Future of libraries 1 : Kit Hadley of St Paul Public Library network looking at move from “purposively passive” to pro-active outside of the library – Minnesota Public Radio (USA).

  • Future of libraries 2: rethinking the library in the digital world – Minnesota Public Radio (USA).  “I can have a book whenever I want and I am not alone, so how does that affect the public library?”
  • Jeff Sturges on libraries and makerspaces – ALA Techsource (USA). “Jeff Sturges, Founder and Conductor of the Mt. Eliot Makerspace in Detroit, about makerspaces and libraries. Jeff and the Mt. Eliot Makerspace collaborate with the Detroit Public Library on their HYPE teen makerspace”

“I have a vision of libraries serving as important hubs for smaller makerspaces in a large network of makerspaces across the country. I think schools, libraries, and other large community institutions need to take up this role– providing access to tools that others won’t necessarily have access to. Libraries are large physical structures where the community gathers.”

  • Library thefts cost Austin more than $1 million in five years – Statesman (USA). One person owes “$9,660 in late fees and the cost of 283 unreturned items” … “$1.1 million in taxpayer-purchased inventory has been checked out over the past five years but hasn’t been returned. Patrons owe an additional $861,571 in fines from 2008 through 2012 for items that were returned after their due dates.”
  • Writers condemn “obscene” Scottish library closures – BookSeller. “Several authors have expressed their anger at the closures, including Tony Black, Mark Billingham, Stuart MacBride, Sean Black and Craig Robertson.”

“Libraries are not just places that lend books, they’re the lifeblood of communities, if you remove them you remove far more than shelves of books. Many writers will confirm that the local library was their first introduction to the world of words; I know it’s where I encountered Burns and Stevenson and the likes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. My local library sparked my interest in writing and literature and I wouldn’t be writing today if it wasn’t for that library.” Tony Black

  • Why Libraries Should Be the Next Great Start-Up Incubators – Atlantic Cities (USA).  “One of the world’s first and most famous libraries, in Alexandria, Egypt, was frequently home some 2,000 years ago to the self-starters and self-employed of that era. “When you look back in history, they had philosophers and mathematicians and all sorts of folks who would get together and solve the problems of their time”.

“Libraries meanwhile may be associated today with an outmoded product in paper books. But they also happen to have just about everything a 21st century innovator could need: Internet access, work space, reference materials, professional guidance”

  • Why Public Libraries are the Only Thing That Matters (to me) in the Print vs Digital Debate – Digital Media Diet (USA). “with a new life so entwined with the digital book, you’d think I’m ‘rooting’ for it in the whole Print vs Digital debate. Yet I think the only thing I can really root for in general is kids learning to love reading as much as I did, no matter what the format. And I am especially hopeful that libraries, as they have with past digital technology, will find a way to grow with our culture … we may have other ways to read, but we still need a place to connect to that reading in person sometimes, especially with varying levels of technological adoption across class and other cultural lines.”

Local News

  • Brent – Labour councillors block Sudbury residents’ offer to bring back library to Barham Park – Brent Council Liberal Democrats.  Council chooses to allow Association for Cultural Advancement Through Visual Art to take over ex-Barham Park Library rather than a group which used to reopen the library on a volunteer basis.
  • Gloucestershire – Gazette column – Nikki Owen. “The access to knowledge should be a right, not a privilege – and libraries are the pillars of knowledge. Take those pillars away and what are you left with? A dismantled system that creates inequality, that favours the fit, favours those better-off, those with internet access, independence, you name it.”
  • Hull – Councillor asked to explain library closure plans – Yorkshire Post. “There has been uproar over plans to shut Anlaby Park Library, in west Hull, and re-route the mobile library service to cover the area, following cuts to council funding. The library – described by city-born actress Maureen Lipman as a “lovely little place” – had over 47,000 visits last year, making it the sixth most popular in the city.” … “the mobile service cost £8.33 a visit, against the £1.62 cost per visit at Anlaby Park library”.
  • Isle of Wight – Council accused of “arrogance” after banning Coastal Centre survey from library
    – On the Wight. Leaflet banned because “it covered only one side of an issue” and had “misleading comments”. Council plans to sell Coastal Centre while leaflet was not in favour.
  • Moray – Council to cease funding museums – Museums Journal. Cuts to libraries in Moray happen alongside a complete ending of Arts funding and the withdrawal of the council from all museums.
  • Newcastle – Sending out an SOS – Newcastle Free Press. Reports on 2000 strong protest against cuts inc. libraries. Under 12 march beforehand described as “the cutest march I’ve ever seen”.
  • Sefton – Southport’s library campaigners claim minor victory after protests – Southport Visiter. “The decision to continue exploring the libraries’ futures was deferred so the huge response from campaigners could be fully assessed.”
  • Suffolk – Beat the winter blues – Suffolk Libraries. “The Mental Health and Wellbeing service based at Suffolk Libraries is running a series of events in partnership with colleagues in voluntary and health organisations to help people get through the rest of the winter months. ‘Beat the Winter Blues’ is a campaign aimed at helping people who may find it difficult to cope at a time of year which many people with mental health issues find difficult.”
  • Surrey – Rise in loans to youngsters from Surrey libraries – Elmbridge Today.  4% increase. “The news comes following an investment in more than 44,000 new titles for children and teenagers, as well as the introduction of technology including e-books and a library app. Children’s literature now makes up around a quarter of Surrey libraries’ stock”