ELISA member Paulette Hill attended the Future Libraries event held at Edinburgh Central Library earlier this month. Here is her report…
Future Libraries – the next 125 years
“We trust that this Library is to grow in usefulness year after year, and prove one of the most potent agencies for the good of the people for all time to come” – said Andrew Carnegie, our benefactor, in 1890.
How do we make sure this holds true for the next 125 years? Edinburgh City Libraries are celebrating their 125th birthday, week beginning 8th June 2015. One of the events which I attended included a panel discussing what is happening and what the future holds for libraries, with speakers from various library and information sectors.
The speakers taking part included John Scally, Chief Executive from the National Library of Scotland, Philippa Cochrane, Reader Development Manager, from the Scottish Book Trust, Hazel Hall, Professor of Social Informatics (Information sharing in online environments), from Napier University, and Duncan Wright, Senior School Librarian at Stewart’s Melville College. The event was chaired by Marion Sinclair, CEO Publishing Scotland and introduced by Martina McChrystal, Acting Library and Information Services Manager, City of Edinburgh Council.
Marion Sinclair welcomed us all and then referred to Ambition and opportunity: the first national strategy for public libraries in Scotland which had recently been published and said it was very positive about the role that libraries play. The panel were then asked what they thought were the key strengths of libraries. They were identified as access to knowledge and content in a democratic way, in a safe and trusted environment, in the community. Technology may change but these fundamental principles should remain.
The importance of making connections as well as looking after collections was also stressed. For school pupils it was important to instil a love of reading and to develop information literacy and research skills. Sharing the enjoyment of reading and imaginative text has a social role and assists in delivering stronger social benefits.
In the past one of the problems was in finding information and libraries assisted with this, whereas today, and in the future, with the explosion of information in both print and digital format, the emphasis is on helping library users find information of value and relevance.
The panel were then asked to consider why there have been negative stories about libraries in the press. The response was that there were reports that in the Google era, and its offshoots such as Google Books there was no need for mediation via libraries and librarians. However, this has been proved to be wrong and statistics prove that libraries in Scotland are very well used. Refurbishment of libraries and provision of relevant work and leisure spaces, provision of workshops, exhibitions etc. have proved to be very popular with the public but this message does not always get out to the media. Although public support is high there is a need to get positive stories out much earlier. The Love Letters to Libraries initiative is a means whereby people can share their experiences with libraries and others to send out positive messages.
It was agreed that there is a need for libraries to market themselves and their services more strongly. Libraries should continue to ensure that both printed books and e-books are relevant and to offer to assist those with visual impairment. Even with the rise of e-books there are still many more people read printed books and many still do not have access to the internet nor information in digital format so their needs must be catered for.
Attendees were then invited to put questions and comments to the panel. The first comment was that self-issue of library items could be problematic and was impersonal and there was a personal preference that library staff should do this. The panel’s response was that automation of routine tasks released library staffs’ time to work in areas such as assisting users in developing information literacy skills, and that some library users preferred self-issue, but that library staff would always be on hand and willing to help users, where required.
The issues of the exponential increase in book publishing, funding, and purchasing were raised; libraries can deal with this based on their knowledge and experience, and regular stock review and disposal policies. There will be a need for closer partnership in the future between libraries from all sectors and in making digital content and catalogues more easily accessible. The National Library of Scotland is establishing such a new presence in the autumn at the Kelvin Hall, Glasgow. Legal deposit of e-collections raises new challenges as at present these can only be consulted within a legal deposit library.
Concern was raised about the scarcity of training and fewer professional posts. The response was that there is a need for a core group of professional librarians combined with other staff who can bring skills such as in technology and communications in order to enrich the services that libraries can offer.
It is estimated that over 20 million visits were made to libraries in Scotland in 2014 so the numbers are very healthy. However, it is recognised there are various choices for people these days to find access to information. A great initiative that libraries offer is Bookbug sessions for babies and their families which instil familiarity and usage of libraries from a very early age. Success stories need to be emphasised. It was noted that 4 of the recent Bookseller Industry awards for library of the year are Scottish Public Library services- Edinburgh, Dundee, Midlothian, and Orkney . Edinburgh have opened a brand new Central children’s library and built a new neighbourhood centre and library in Craigmillar. Local needs are important and libraries and their services should be tailored accordingly.
A final question was asked about the priorities to be considered on budget expenditure. The response was that the top priority should be on staffing, at the right level, with appropriate skills, then on content, of value and relevance, and finally on utilities, so this was challenging but fundamental to the key strengths of libraries.
As time was drawing to a close Marion Sinclair said that overall the outlook for the future of libraries is positive so she would finish on this note and encouraged us all to look at Ambition and opportunity: the first national strategy for public libraries in Scotland which emphasises this positivity.
Paulette M. Hill (CILIP, MmITS Treasurer)
12th June 2015