New research from Axiell UK highlights staffing, funding and technology as key challenges, and also suggests key areas for libraries to focus on in order to build sustainable and community-centric services. The survey of 150 UK-based library professionals, presented in the new report, “A review of UK libraries in 2017: A guide for delivering sustainable, community-centric services”, highlights that 89% believe it’s important for library services to be accessible to everyone, but there are key challenges. These include staffing (91%), funding to take the library out to the community (77.5%), and technology (47.5%), for example not having mobile devices.
In 2016, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) released figures that showed the UK’s public library sector took a £25m hit to its budgets in the financial year to March 2016.
The Axiell research highlights some key themes for UK libraries, including: the importance of taking the library out to the community; the role of volunteers; the importance of equality of access, both to the physical space and the library’s content; and the need for libraries to have offers that are tailored specifically to the needs of their communities. It also highlights the differences between library professionals’ views of what libraries should deliver vs. what they actually do today.
While 75 per cent of librarians strongly agree the public library should be a central meeting place, a significant 86% say they must engage with the community outside of the library building itself. Despite staffing and funding challenges, librarians are making strides to achieve this, with 85% going into schools, 63% visiting other community places like hospitals and youth centres, and 48% providing mobile library services.
It’s clear from the survey that people highly value trained librarians and think they should be retained, with volunteers acting in a complementary capacity. When used effectively, volunteers play a crucial role helping to create a more sustainable library sector, with 83% of libraries using volunteers to support library staff.
The Axiell research also shows that two-thirds of library professionals agree the introduction of library automation and self-service systems will be beneficial in extending opening hours and giving greater access to literature and learning materials.
Nick Poole, CEO of CILIP, commented: “Implemented and managed correctly, using technology to extend opening hours means more local residents can use the library at times that suit them. We must remember that a library is much more than a building containing books – it’s a place where people can get help and advice to find work, set up a business, improve their health, meet and learn new skills. Trained, skilled library staff make this difference; they turn a building into a thriving community hub.”
Ben Sullivan, UK Managing Director, Axiell, comments: “Public libraries are under pressure to cut costs while continuing to deliver services that meet the requirements of today’s citizens and demonstrate value to the local authority. To create a sustainable, modern public library sector, we must support libraries so they can consider and explore new ways to offer different activities and experiences to encourage engagement, whether that’s through technology, in person or through a new range of services to the community.”