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Envisioning the library of the future is a major research project undertaken by the Arts Council in 2012/13 that will help us to understand the future for libraries, and how we can enable them to develop.
The libraryof the futureA response to Envisioning the library of the futureby Arts Council England Chief Executive Alan Davey
2IntroductionPublic libraries are at a pivotalpoint. They are much loved andexpected to continue offeringthe same services as they havefor many years, but they are alsoexpected to respond to big changesin how people live their lives.More people are living alone, the populationis ageing and more varied, technologycontinues to advance rapidly, and pressureis growing on public expenditure. Atthe same time people expect and areencouraged to have a greater say in thepublic services they use.Recent debate about libraries has beenintense. Much of the focus has been onshort-term issues of funding, the closureof libraries and a perceived tension betweenbooks and digital technology. As a result, anunderstanding of how libraries will contributeto the future success and well-beingof this country hasn’t developed.Public libraries have always adapted andrenewed themselves to meet the changingneeds of people and communities. Booksand information are supplied at speedsthat were unimaginable a generation ago,changes from vinyl discs through cassettesand CDs to music downloads have beenmade, and the comedy stereotype of sternlibrarians hushing library users has beenconsigned to history.So, it is time to re-assert the value, role andpurpose of public libraries and point to howthey can respond to change in order toremain at the heart of the community.Paignton Library, Torbay.Photo: Michael Cameron PhotographyAlan Davey, ChiefExecutive, ArtsCouncil England.Photo: Philippa Gedge
3Arts Council Englandand public librariesArts Council England plays a significant role in supportingand developing public libraries, and local government hasthe statutory responsibility for providing and funding libraryservices under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.The long term success of libraries is important to us. So wehave undertaken a major research project which we calledEnvisioning the library of the future to understand betterwhat public libraries could and should look like.This research examined:• recent innovations and trends likely toshape public libraries in the next 10 years• library experts’ ideas about what theimpact of these changes is likely to be• the views of people particularly interestedin the future of libraries (for examplepeople who work in libraries, councillors,authors, academics, and campaigners)• public opinion (users and non-users)voiced through online debate andworkshops around the countryThe research built on previous work andwe tested the emerging findings with ourpartners, experts and commentators.In total the researchers spoke with over800 people. The online survey had1,400 responses and over 10,000 viewedthe online conversation.All of the detailed research reportsare available on our website.That research told us:There is a clear, compelling andcontinuing need for a publicly fundedlibrary service.We heard this from people at every stageof our research. It didn’t matter whetherthey use libraries or not, people are vocaland passionate about their value.Public libraries are trusted spaces,free to enter and open to all. In thempeople can explore and share reading,information, knowledge and culture.Three essential ingredients definethe public library:• a safe, creative community space thatis enjoyable and easy to use, in bothphysical and virtual form• an excellent range of quality books,digital resources and other content• well-trained, friendly people to helpusers to find what they want eitherindependently or with support
4Public libraries:• develop basic skills and habits of modernliteracy and learning with the help ofbooks and digital resources• support business and economic growthby information and skills development• help us understand ourselves, our placein the world, and the heritage of thecommunities in which we live• encourage us to explore our ownculture and creativity, and that ofothers around us• improve our health and well-being byhelping us to make sense of what ishappening to us and how we canshape our lives• build a healthy democracy by providingfree access to reliable informationthrough which we form our opinionsThe future public library will be both aphysical and a virtual place – somewherepeople visit, and also somewhere to be partof wherever they are. The library will notstand alone but will be collaborating withother organisations to give people access to awide range of services that meet their needs.We expect to see a shift from a serviceprovided to a community to one in whichlocal people are more active and involved inits design and delivery. People will be creatingnew content, having conversations and usingnew technology for their own benefit, fortheir community or their business.High quality leadership, professional skills andexperience will remain important but therewill be more emphasis given to community,digital and entrepreneurial skills.Finding the information to answer anyquestion, books to satisfy the never-endingdesire for pleasure, learning and knowledge,and the practice of literacy as one of life’sbasic skills, will remain at the heart of whatmakes a library, and what will place thelibrary at the heart of the community.The Arts Council has a big role in developingpublic libraries in England but we cannotand should not attempt this alone. Wewant to inspire a collaboration that willallow the public library service to changeand develop with confidence, deliveringnational leadership while respecting localaccountability and flexibility.Pendleton Library, one of a number of public services co-located in Pendleton Gateway, Salford.Photo: Nick Harrison
5Four priorities for a 21stcentury public library service1 Place the library as the hub ofa community2 Make the most of digital technologyand creative media3 Ensure that libraries are resilientand sustainable4 Deliver the right skills for thosewho work for librariesThe key issues emerging in this research aresimilar to those we handle with the widerarts and cultural sector. It is because thereis such a close fit with the Arts Council’sfive long term goals that we will be able todevelop solutions to these challenges fromwhich both libraries and arts organisationscan benefit.Based on our discussions with members of the publicand the sector, we have identified four priorities tosustain and develop a 21st century public library service.Making use of the digital resources at Canada Water Library, London. Photo: Michael Cameron Photography
6We know that, in future, many people arelikely to lead more isolated lives. More willwork from home and more will live alone.Opportunities to meet in free public spacesfor a wide variety of purposes will beincreasingly important. Our findings showthat libraries will continue to be valued astrusted, safe, democratic places that offervaluable resources and expertise to supportthe activities of the people who use them.Libraries’ physical space will be more flexibleand integrated with a virtual presencethat includes web-based reading groups,social networking and links to other onlineresources. People will engage in creativeand cultural activities as well as readingand learning, exchanging ideas,conversation and knowledge.Space shared with community based services(such as council, health, business support,and learning organisations) will be betterfor local people, and will bring benefits suchas skills exchanges, reaching more peopleand cutting costs.Priority 1: Place the library as the hub of a community• re-think the way library spacesare used to encourage shared andcreative activity while continuingto welcome those who want toexplore on their own• integrate the library’s physicaland virtual spaces• sustain enough spaces offeredby libraries to meet the needsof their communitiesThe challenge:the use of a library’s spaceLibraries will continueto be valued as trusted,safe, democratic placesthat offer valuableresources and expertiseStorytime at Jubilee Library, Brighton.Photo: Matthew Andrews
7Digital technology is developing rapidly andwill continue to have a major impact on theway we obtain and consume information,culture and the written word. Beyond thelibrary building, people will expect a moreinteractive experience and to be able to gainaccess to library services all day, every day,particularly while on the move.Libraries should be at the heart of digitalinnovation. They should develop their role inactively connecting communities and helpingpeople to experience, experiment with andmaster new technologies.Digital technology will be the key to futurelibrary service delivery but our researchpoints out that its true potential will not beachieved unless the principle of an open,enabling ICT infrastructure is agreed by localauthorities and library services.This would allow libraries to innovate, andto share or jointly adopt services moreefficiently. By making it easier to developnational services and enable local innovation,people will get access to more resources,information and support.Many assume that digital information sourcesand online services are accessible toeveryone. But a digital divide still existsbecause a significant number of people lackthe confidence, the necessary skills or thedesire to make effective use of technology.Some who do, are held back by poor digitalconnections or can’t afford them. Publiclibraries will ensure that no-one needs tobe left behind or excluded.• improve the quality andconsistency of the virtual libraryexperience• develop an open ICT infrastructurethat encourages innovation andbetter service• enable libraries to lend the fullrange of e-books, includingremotelyThe challenge: using technologyPriority 2: Make the most of digital technology and creative mediaLibraries shouldbe at the heart ofdigital innovation.Using the computers at Truro Library, Cornwall.Photo: Michael Cameron Photography
8Priority 3: Ensure that libraries are resilient and sustainableCommunities arebecoming moreinvolved in thedesign and deliveryof library services. The challenge: cutting costs,finding new sources of funds andnew ways of working• create a positive environmentfor communities and individualsto become actively involved inthe design and delivery of theirlibrary services• encourage the development ofnew approaches to governingand managing libraries thatmake it more likely that theywill survive and succeed• equip libraries to becommissioned to deliverother public services, and tocommission other organisationsto deliver library servicesA healthcare consultation at Hamworthy Library,Dorset. Photo: Michael Cameron PhotographyOur research, along with reductions in publicexpenditure, makes clear that libraries willneed to reduce costs and find other sourcesof funding to supplement local authoritysupport. Alongside this, communities arebecoming more involved in the design anddelivery of library services. To find the rightsolution, councillors in local authorities areconsidering whether they should changethe way their library service is governed,or whether they can share aspects of theirservice with others.Our research indicates that, as with manyother public services, this trend will continueand grow, and the debate about communityinvolvement in public libraries needs tobe seen in this wider context. We do notsuggest that any one approach is theright one in all circumstances but we havepublished guidance, based on experienceto date, that we suggest should be takeninto account.Some library services are already doingthis and we believe that they could be rolemodels, not just among libraries, but forall public services. This kind of communityinvolvement will become seen not as a cost-cutting tool but as a normal way of working,with staff and users developing ideas andcreating services together.
9Our research indicates that one of the majorchallenges facing public libraries in the futureis ensuring that library staff have effectiveleadership and delivery skills for a rapidlyevolving service.Librarians will need to be active in theircommunities, encouraging people to getinvolved with their library. That involvementwill include local people identifying whattheir priorities are as well as volunteering andcommunity managed services.Supporting people in using digital resourcescompetently and confidently will becomeincreasingly important. Those who workin libraries will need to improve their skillsin organising and helping users to findtheir way through complicated informationsources. They will become more pro-activein inspiring new services in partnershipwith others, and their leaders will needto be more entrepreneurial and adept incommunicating and marketing their services.Our research indicates that not enoughpeople working in libraries are equippedto tackle these changes and take on theseroles, and that current training is not alwaysrelevant for the current and future needs ofthose working in public libraries.Priority 4: Deliver the right skills for those who work for libraries• ensure those responsible forlibraries have the right range ofskills and experience to lead theirservices successfully• encourage those working inlibraries to offer creative andinnovative ways to use libraryspaces, books and other resources• ensure that library staff have theskills to develop and respondto digital developments and tosupport digital usersThe challenge: developing theskills of those who work inlibrariesEnsuring librarieshave effectiveleadership anddelivery skillsfor a rapidlyevolving serviceLibrary user at Oadby Library, Leicestershire.Photo: Michael Cameron Photography
10The role of the Arts Councilin developing the libraryof the futureThe Arts Council has an important role in developingpublic libraries in England. We will secure nationalpartnerships which open up funding opportunities fromwhich public libraries can benefit. We will encouragelibraries in their cultural and creative role (as we arealready doing in projects supported by our Grants for thearts funding), and we will continue to involve them in ourlocal conversations with arts and cultural organisations.We also recognise that to build an effective21st century library service, we will needto work in partnership with a range ofagencies, who have their own distinctiveresponsibilities:• Department of Culture, Media and Sportwhere the statutory oversight of publiclibraries in England sits• Local Government Association whorepresent the local authorities with thestatutory responsibility and democraticmandate to ensure public library servicesare provided• Society of Chief Librarians who are theleaders of public library services• Chartered Institute of Library andInformation Professionals who are theprofessional organisation for librarians• British Library the national hub ofknowledge, information and expertiseThis is only the start and we will be invitingother partners from across the library,cultural, commercial, voluntary and academicsectors to work with us to make real thisambition for public libraries in England.We are confident that we now have a robustset of evidence to provide a framework forwhat happens next. We want this evidenceto inspire a collaboration that will makeit possible for the public library service tochange and develop with confidence.By combining our resources we expect to bemaking progress on a shared programmeof activity by the end of the year. So weinvite all those involved in libraries and thosewho care about their future to embrace thefindings and to work with us on the nextstage of their development.
11The library of the futureEnvisioning the library of the future suggests the public librarywill be a place where people create, learn, discover and share.Many of the features identified in our research already exist inEngland’s libraries, but they are not consistently present andnot all together in one place.So we can expect to see a shift from aservice provided to a community to onein which local people are more active andinvolved in its design and delivery. Librarieswill be recognised as connecting individuals,communities and organisations to innovate,create and provide new library based servicesand ideas.People will be using libraries to do more witheach other and this activity will crossover between physical and virtual spaces.They will be creating new content, havingconversations and using new technology fortheir own benefit, for their community ortheir business.Those working in libraries will be lessoccupied in straightforward transactionsand more involved in linking people andorganisations together in using library spacesand resources for new activities. There willbe a greater emphasis given to community,digital and entrepreneurial skills. In thiscontext, volunteers offer new ways toadd capacity and skills.Libraries’ role out in the community, reachingvulnerable and excluded people, willextend to popping up temporarily as localcircumstances demand and allow. This mightinvolve using vacant spaces, or being invitedin to other community services or workplacesto meet particular needs.If the library of the future will look differentfrom those of the past and present, theirenduring role and purpose means that somethings will feel familiar. A high value willcontinue to be placed on the importanceof quality leadership, professional skillsand experience. Books will sit comfortablyalongside digital and other cultural resourcesin a rich and diverse library collection.Finding the information to answer anyquestion, books to satisfy the never-endingdesire for pleasure, learning and knowledge,and the practice of literacy as one of life’sbasic skills, will remain at the heart of whatmakes a library, and what will place thelibrary at the heart of the community.Our national role means that we arewell-placed to stimulate debate and offersupport to the development of publiclibraries, and we want to work with ourpartners based on the thinking that hasemerged in our research. How that isreflected locally will be determined by eachcouncil based on their own priorities and theneeds of their communities.It is this combination of enduring values,new thinking, collaborative leadershipand flexibility that will equip public librariesto create economic and social benefits forthis country and its communities long intothe future.