The public library service in England needs radical transformation and modernisation if it is to remain as relevant and popular in the 21st century as it was in the 19th and 20th centuries, Culture Minister Margaret Hodge said today.
Publishing a far-reaching consultation paper today, Ms Hodge pinpointed the big challenges facing the service:
With numbers using libraries down and book issues down, what must change to reverse this declining trend?
What will the impact of digitisation be on libraries?
How can libraries respond to the 24/7 culture and the greater availability of cheap books for sale?
- How will libraries survive the pressures on public spending?
Speaking at a newly-refurbished library in Southwark, she stressed that free access to books and the written word must remain the cornerstone of the service, but also pointed out that library customers today clearly looked for something more than previous generations:
“Libraries are a much-loved part of public life in England, with more branches than either McDonalds or Boots. But sweeping advances in technology, increasing standards of living and higher expectations of service mean that they must move with the times to stay part of the times.
“The incredible rise of easy internet access and use means that libraries simply have to compete and perform more effectively if they are to justify the public investment they need. Sleepwalking into the era of the iPhone, the eBook and the Xbox without a strategy, runs the risk of turning the library service into a curiosity of history like telex machines or typewriters.”
The consultation paper includes 30 essays offering different views of what the important issues are, from people including authors Tracy Chevalier and Michael Rosen; Random House Chair and Chief Executive Gail Rebuck, Starbucks MD Darcy Willson-Rymer; and many others.
It also poses a series of questions upon which the DCMS seeks views from as wide a range of people as possible including the library and publishing community.
Margaret Hodge continued:
“Local authorities spend around £1 billion a year on libraries and councils sometimes see them as a soft target for budget cuts. The secret of securing a bright future for the service lies in offering a modern, relevant and popular service they will defend. Good libraries have a buzz about them; they draw people in by offering things that people want, in a way that it is user friendly and welcoming for both young and old.
“It’s not just about comfy couches and coffee, and it’s not simply about computers and crèches – it’s about much more. We need to think radically, and nothing should be out of bounds. New structures, new services, new ways of working – all of these need to be on the agenda of those who care about libraries and want a strong future for the library service.”
Notes to Editors
‘Empower, Inform Enrich – The modernisation review of public libraries’ is available from the DCMS.
Phone: For enquiries please contact the above department