In a truly excellent piece by a pro-library non-user, the failure of the current public library system to appeal to what was once a traditional user is exposed.  The reasons are all to do with technology. The writer wants instant (no passwords) unlimited wifi in a world where many UK libraries still don’t have it at all.  She wants the very latest bestsellers on e-book form when still a fifth of UK authorities don’t have any and the UK e-lending pilot is moving with gradual (oh so necessary) slowness.  She also states what we all know: Amazon does a better job of knowing the customer than the library does.  Although public libraries have all the data on what books have been loaned, they simply don’t use it to recommend new books to customers.  Heck, to many authorities, a monthly email with the mention of the top ten borrowed books last month is still a pretty neat idea. Finally, she wants coffee – well, you’re not going to get that in many smaller libraries and there’s even some city libraries, even now in late 2013, that have not yet woken up and, well, smelled it yet.

Why this failure to do things better?  Well, in part, it’s because the world around libraries has changed and the sector has simply not kept up.  Stuck in a printed book world has not helped us with people like this blog writer who now have an alternative far better suited to their needs and the money to buy it.  The model that was successful for decades is simply not working any more for these people … and they’re a lot of the public library market. I reckon from reports all over the country that library book issues will be down between 10 to 20% this year.  That’s awful.  That’s nightmare bad.  It would be terrifying even in the good years before the Austerity: now it’s like waving a “shoot me” placard over one’s head. Yes, I know that we still appeal to those who don’t want e-books or can’t afford them but the sector simply can’t lost that amount of users and not be unaffected.

There’s also (sorry, people … and, well, at least until the last two years where if there’s anyone still blindly sure of their job then I despair for them) been a lot of complacency.  No-one will close a library was the idea.  The public won’t stand for it we said.  Well, they do close libraries and it appears it doesn’t matter what the public thinks.  Indeed, when it comes to volunteers, the public are (to the paid librarian in the small branch) becoming the problem. Newspaper reports have moved from shocked reports of library closures in 2011 to optimist community-pulls-together tales of volunteers taking over libraries (and see this too).  And, where volunteers have taken over, you know what? Some have been successful.  Yes, this is often because of initial enthusiasm, normally in prosperous areas and it’s patchy and no way to run a national service … but the fact remains that this success  is then used to get rid of more paid staff and get more volunteer libraries. And all the while this is happening, people like the blog writer at the start of this article will be more and more turned off.  

Libraries need to up their game – offer barrier-less wifi and use all means at their disposal to get a good e-book offer.  They need to use the personal data. They need to do all of this while somehow not alienating traditional library users.  This is very very difficult and needs imagination and leadership and luck and, well, many things a lot of libraries don’t have.  Above all, all this requires money … and, you know what? There’s precious little of any of that left. Libraries are not commercial enterprises: we don’t get profits like Amazon can and, in the Austerity, cuts of 5% per year are being seen. So there’s a massive challenge there, and not one which libraries have been fantastic about addressing so far.  We must make sure that the prosperous technologically-literate are not further turned off libraries … but how to do that is going to need more space and time than I have here, at least tonight.  



  • Why I don’t use public libraries and how they might lure me back – When the moon shines. “Can’t we just stop talking about what the future library looks like and become the library our users need right now?”.  Wants books instantly as is time-poor; needs it in e-book form only; wifi.  But e-book collection is too poor (” Libraries need to hurry up and get active on this or they will no longer be relevant to people like me – at least not in terms of their role as content providers.”).  Libraries need to use the data it keeps on reading habits to “push” books to people the same way Amazon does (“Amazon fuels my consumption. Amazon knows me.”). Wifi is poor (“Connections are throttled, there are clunky password systems in place, and access is for a fixed amount of time.”)

“There are two things I want from public libraries: fiction ebooks, and fast, free, unrestricted wifi (preferably wifi I can use while I sit on a comfy lounge and drink a good coffee).”

“Ultimately I’d love to get my ebooks from the library. I’d save $50 a month at least. But right now, I’d rather spend the $50 on a delivery model that meets my needs than save it and waste time – a rarer commodity – looking for, and ultimately not finding, the ebooks I want at the online library.”

UK news by authority

“While councils of every hue across the country have been closing their libraries wholesale, I am proud that in Brighton and Hove we have kept all ours open and continue planning ahead on that same basis.”

“I’m not surprised Moray council seek to close libraries. Libraries are storehouse of our collective knowledge, and as we know – knowledge is strength. When we find out what’s being done, what has been done to our birthright; our once kindly society’s free healthcare, free libraries, free schools – how all of that provision has been spent on bailing out banks and boosting bonuses – when the knowledge of that theft reaches all of our citizens, then we might seek to bring about a bigger change than simply stopping the closure of much-needed and loved libraries.”

“Because the university has a strong library school, would we be able to use their students to help us?”

  • Southend – Town council chief hits back in libraries row and says “We’re not liars” – Echo. “Southend Council leader Nigel Holdcroft accused the town council of lying that the Grade II-listed building, in Broadway West, faced closure. And he hit out at use of council tax funds for a campaign to keep professional librarians there.” … “Mrs Parker admitted the town council used council tax cash – but only a small amount towards a successful campaign with popular backing. More than quarter of Leigh’s 20,000 population signed the petition.”
  • Surrey – Frustration mounts as volunteers wait to take over library – Guardian series. “Frustration is mounting among a group of volunteers who are still waiting to take over a library that has lost all its paid staff. Staff from neighbouring libraries have had to be drafted in to provide cover at Ewell Court Library. Volunteers are standing by to replace the professionals but they cannot start work until library renovations are carried out.”
  • Worcestershire – JobCentre set for move into town’s library – Malvern Gazette. “The layout of the Graham Road building, which is already home to the library, Worcestershire Hub and registration service, will be redesigned to accommodate the move. Worcestershire County Council says it will bring together more services in one location, making life more convenient for people and save taxpayer money by reducing property related costs.”
  • Wrexham – Future Of Three Wrexham Libraries To Be Scrutinised – Wrexham.com. “However in a report to go before the Scrutiny Committee on Wednesday, it is recommended Committee supports the Executive Boards proposal to close three of Wrexham’s public libraries. The report will focus on how / if changes to library opening hours (across all libraries or though the closure of three libraries) can make significant financial savings and what impact this will have on the Council’s achievement of the Public Library Standards for Wales. A full PDF of the report can be found here.”