One of the most inspiring sessions at The Edge 2010 conference came from Tony Durcan, Head of Culture, Libraries & Lifelong Learning, Newcastle Council; and Councillor John Shipley, Leader of Newcastle Council. Tony and John talked about Newcastle’s new City Library: a 7 year PFI development project costing £24m and resulting in a fantastic new library for the people of Newcastle; a public space boasting 8,300 square metres of books, PCs, resources, advice; and a café, of course. The new library opened in November 2009 and by the end of January 2010 reported impressive figures:
- 792.000 visitors - 35,000 new members - 396,000 items loaned
Undoubtedly Newcastle’s new library is a huge success and I think that’s partly to do with Tony Durcan’s infectious enthusiasm coupled with strong support from Cllr John Shipley. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a Council Leader who has spoken so passionately about the value of public libraries. He just ‘gets it!’ And following his positive and inspiring talk there were calls from the audience to ‘clone him’
Here’s a few gems of wisdom from John’s talk (I’ve paraphrased):
- If we want to build social inclusion in our communities we need to build libraries where people want to be
- City centres without free public spaces, like libraries, are only welcoming to those who have cash to spend
- Governments should invest in public libraries because it’s the right thing to do!
- Everyone in society can participate in the public library experience: it’s a majority service rather than a minority service
- We shouldn’t be shy about demanding extra expenditure because public libraries are cheap & lead to a more inclusive society which leads to lowered costs elsewhere on things like crime, health, education…
- We need to stop focussing on statistics because they reveal nothing about the true value of the public library
- We need to make a stronger case for our public libraries – if we can communicate value successfully then politicians will invest!
I think he’s telling us that ‘the ball’s in our court’. And in order to secure the future of public libraries WE need to make the case for our libraries; challenge misconceptions and communicate value – in a language that those holding the purse strings can easily understand!