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Public Libraries in the 21st Century (C) Christine Rooney-Browne

Public Libraries in the 21st Century (C) Christine Rooney-Browne

Just thought I’d share a couple of presentations that I delivered at two different conferences last week.

First up is my keynote presentation from the SINTO lecture in Sheffield;  “A Look at the Role of Public Libraries in Times of Recession

And secondly, a joint presentation between myself and Liz McGettigan from Edinburgh City Libraries at the annual Internet Librarian International Conference in London; “A Joined Up Approach to Social Media”.

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Although it’s still early days in terms of official research, public libraries are emerging once again as recession sanctuaries;  providing vital services, in times of economic crisis.

Brighton-and-Hove-Recession

I recently presented on this very topic at the Society of Chief Librarian’s (SCL) Conference at the University of Warwick.  (Presentation available via my SlideShare page, click here).  Attending the conference was a fantastic experience as I was able to chat to delegates about the impact that the recession has had on their library services; how they’re managing to deliver high quality services despite ongoing budget cuts; and the innovative ways that they’re promoting their services to users, including this inspired poster from Brighton & Hove….

During the Q&A session for my presentaion I noted a strong desire from many delegates to explore Web 2.0 and social media.  Unfortunately, however, many are unable to implement their Web 2.0 plans due to restrictions imposed on them by council-wide IT departments and their filtering policies (click here for a previous blog post about Glasgow City Libraries & internet filtering).  A shame really, given that other authorities, with slightly more liberal approaches to web 2.0 are able to forge ahead, creating interactive and collaborative spaces for library users to visit online (e.g. Manchester Libraries).

Seems unfair that public library users and staff, many of whom could benefit greatly from accessing web 2.0 and  social media sites are being prevented from doing so as a  result of a web 2.0 postcode lottery.  Wouldn’t it be great if all public library services across the UK were at the same operational level with web 2.0 and social media…before we have to deal with the challenges and possibilities that web 3.0 presents? Just a thought! 🙂

Twitter Feed - SCL Conference 09 - #scl &#scl09

Twitter Feed - SCL Conference 09 - #scl & #scl09

There were lots of other topics discussed over the two days and to highlight some of the burning issues I’ve created a word cloud, using Wordle, based on keywords from the Twitter feed (see above).

If you’re keen to find out more about the role of public libraries in times of recession then why not click here to check out my recently published article “Rising to the Challenge”,  featured in the latest edition of Library Review.

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In times of economic hardship people have less disposable income and thus tend to cut down on their luxury goods expenditure.  The purchasing of books, DVDs, music, new technologies and branded groceries, alongside outings to the theatre, cinemas and football matches become less frequent as we all try to tighten our belts a little.  

We’ve been speculating for a few months now that the latest credit crunch might have a positive impact on public library usage and we’re starting to see some real evidence of that.  Recent news stories from America reveal that public library authorities in Santa Fe  and Frederick County have enjoyed an increase in visitor numbers over the last 6-9 months.  There’s also been a shift in how people have been interacting with their local libraries and the types of services that they’re accessing.  Once again, the public library is emerging as a lifeline and invaluable resource for people trying to find new jobs, learn new skills or simply escape from the harsh realities of the recession by rediscovering the joy of reading…

Even a few of my friends who’ve always bought their books from Amazon and who had previously admitted to me that they’d rather browse the shelves of Borders than visit their local library have signed up for library memberships!  Telling times indeed!  

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I’ve just finished reading a seriously interesting and thought-provoking report; From Awareness to Funding: A study of library support in America and recommend it to anyone interested in understanding more about public library funding and/or marketing.  

Funded by a grant from the Bill and Miranda Gates Foundation, the OCLC hooked up with research and marketing agency, Leo Burnett, to:

  • investigate current attitudes and perceptions of public libraries; determine how best to challenge traditional misconceptions.
  • identify whether implementation of targeted national marketing and advocacy campaigns would lead to an increase in public library funding.

Although the results are based on an American sample, the message is relevant to anyone working in public libraries today. 

It highlights that public libraries undertake marketing and promotional campaigns to help increase footfall, drive usage, etc…but is this backed up with additional funding from the parent organisation to enable them to cope with, for example, an increase in new users or enhanced expectations? Probably not. This report attempts to develop a strategy, not only for increasing visitor numbers and challenging perceptions, but also for ensuring that our libraries are adequately funded and suitably equipped to respond to the needs of 21st century stakeholders.

Public libraries are more than just book issuing points (Photos © East Renfrewshire Council)

Public libraries are more than just book issuing points (Photos © East Renfrewshire Council)

It also provides ‘food for thought’ for those of us interested in communicating the value of public libraries to those ‘holding the purse strings’:

“Library funding supporters are not swayed by messages that detail library services delivered, but rather by messages that remind them of the library’s impact on their community”  
(OCLC, 2008, 7:4)

Also interesting are the three key themes that the focus groups developed to enable public libraries to attract funding that is on a par with other public services:

1. Make the library relevant for the 21st century

2. Instil a sense of urgency by putting the library in a competitive context for funding, alongside public schools, fire department and police department

3. Activate conversations about the library’s importance in community infrastructure and its role in the community’s future (OCLC, 2008, 7:5)

I won’t go into too much depth about the report as you can check it out for yourself here, and I’d recommend that you do,  if you’re interested in the future of public libraries.   In the UK we’re constantly bombarded with reports about the ‘credit crunch’ and predictions of a recession in the coming months; so the reality is that we might all have to re-evaluate how we secure funding for our public libraries…as there’s sure to be even more cutbacks on the way and we don’t want to be viewed as a ‘non-critical’ public service when the government attempts to slash the public sector budgets again!

Thanks to Alan Poulter for forwarding on the OCLC report.  

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