Topical items and views on the impact of digitisation on publishing and its content and the issues that make the news. This blog follows the report 'Brave New World',
(http://www.ewidgetsonline.com/vcil/bravenewworld.html ), published by the Booksellers Association of the UK and Ireland and authored by Martyn Daniels. The views and comments expressed are those of the author.
Friday, August 30, 2013
The Polarisation of the Civic Library?
In stark contrast to the new £188 million Library of
Birmingham, we read of yet more cuts of some 20% to library service budgets in
Anglesey, of potential closures to local libraries in Southend and across
Lincolnshire and many other areas. Over 200 libraries have closed over the last
year and Library campaigners are predicting some 400 closures in the next three
years. Southend however are not just closing libraries but are spending 27
million on The Forum, a state-of-the-art library being delivered by the
Council, the University of Essex and South Essex College.
So are we seeing a
shift towards a centralised civic library and away from the local community
one? Is this a wise move and are there other potential options?
If we forget the emotional rhetoric of the need to save our
heritage, versus the cold blooded reality of having to cuts costs, do we have a
potential to redeploy spending and potential meet the needs of all?
Many councils are looking to somewhat blatantly to breathe
life into their library services and these ideas include library relocations,
using volunteers, and increasing income. But is this merely sticking a plaster
over a heavily bleeding patient? Some may suggest that it is a pity it took
many until public spending cuts had to be made, to galvanise their thinking and
responses. This sudden reaction has itself created opposition and polarisation
of positions, which may have been avoided if the authorities had acted
progressively and proactively over the years.
But we are where we are today.
Birmingham’s new library covers some 31,000 square metres
over 10 levels and houses over 400,000 works which all be readily available to
the public. This is twice the number of works which were available in the
previous central library. It is also seen as an iconic landmark building and
Birmingham’s answer to the many new landmarks such as London’s Shard. Some
would suggest that this prestigious civic statement is reminiscent of the
Victorian era when buildings like libraries were seen a civic statement of
wealth and prosperity.
In contrast, the Lincolnshire authority is looking to reduce
the number of libraries under its control from 47 to 15, in a bid to save £2
million and is hoping that many local communities will step in to take over the
running of some libraries in rural locations. In an interesting twist the
Lincolnshire Co-operative has offered to join forces with the council to keep
six of the libraries open and also some 21 communities have expressed an
interested in becoming involved in running local library services.
We have written about this subject and we often forget the
relative short history of the public library in the UK.
With more public private partnerships such as the
Lincolnshire Co-operative, we may now also be seeing a return to the
subscription and circulating libraries?
We have to recognise that change is happening all around us.
As a result of; technology, networks and mobile connectivity, we are changing
how we communicate, discover, research, consume media and the media itself is
changing. We are not advocating a ‘digital only’, monolithic database that is
only accessible over the net. Far from it. Southend however are spending
27 million on The Forum, state-of-the-art library being delivered by the
Council, the University of Essex and South Essex College. But neither are we
advocating the status quo, where in many cases books lie dormant on shelves in
local buildings, because they have done so for the last hundred years.
The publishing industry is often the first to jump on
the barricades to defend the libraries, but its track record to date in
enabling digital lending has been somewhat questionable and some would suggest
self-centred. In a world, where for many the community is both local and
virtual, maybe it’s the redefinition of the community library hub we are trying
to grapple with. Libraries are often seen as book depositories and although many
have tried to change this image, to many it sticks. But today we have libraries
such as Amazon with every book available in both print and digitally, Google
with its search engine and the online encyclopaedia that is
Wikipedia. Merely replicating these is not what a civic library is best
equipped or resourced to do. As the book evolves and media extends some past
the spine, we have to also ask how we incorporate the book into a widening
remit, whilst protecting the library as a centre of knowledge and expression.
Some other past Brave New World articles on the subject: