|The library service has come under huge pressure in recent years, with many being closed as councils aim to absorb public sector spending cuts. In fact, a recent study by the BBC found that between 2010 and 2016, more than 300 have closed. But all has not been lost, as the number of volunteers helping to keep libraries operational has nearly doubled from 15,861 to 31,403 over these six years. It’s an indication of how library services are seeking to adapt to changing times. But if they are to genuinely thrive, they need to look beyond new operating models and focus on delivering services that really meet people’s needs.
Many of us may regard the library as a place where we used to go to study and access information. But we’re in a digital age now and people can easily perform the same tasks at their desk or via their smartphone. In a sense, the traditional role of the library has been diminished. But that doesn’t mean they’ve outlived their usefulness. Instead, they can look to see where they might be able to add genuine value to the local community in other ways. For instance, is there a large proportion of unconnected people in the area who could benefit from having affordable computer access?
According to recent figures from the Carnegie UK Trust, 1 in 2 of us still visit our local library. Interestingly, 15 to 24-year-olds are the most likely group to use a library, with over-55s being least likely to do so. That’s perhaps the opposite of what many might have initially assumed, and a good example of why library operators must understand the specific needs of the people they can serve. Only then can they identify possible gaps in service provision and transform their offering into something that’s relevant and genuinely valuable.
Many libraries are starting to position themselves as a community hub and place where local people can gather and interact. For instance, some offer cafe facilities alongside their traditional books and computers, giving people the chance to come in for a slice of cake and a mug of tea as well as a read! This can be an effective revenue generator, raising funds that help to subsidise every aspect of managing a library, and an appealing USP that gets people inside and learning about the services available. Alternatively, libraries could reach out to local schools and businesses, offering themselves as a venue for events. Again, this could get people who might not otherwise visit to come inside and learn what else a modern library can offer.
Promote your services
A key finding of the Carnegie UK Trust study was that most people believe providing better information on the services that libraries offer would encourage greater use. Martyn Evans, Chief Executive of the body, says public libraries must therefore ‘redouble their efforts to demonstrate their value and make a compelling case for increasingly scarce resources.’ There are countless ways to do this, from setting up blogs, email lists and building a community on social media, to giving away promotional merchandise such as bookmarks, shopping bags or message bugs in public areas such as the market square or local shopping centre. These are direct and cost-effective ways of reaching local people and letting them know not only that you exist, but also what compelling services you offer.
Young people’s library usage trends revealed in Carnegie report The Bookseller
Libraries lose a quarter of staff as hundreds close BBC News