Biddy Fisher: Libraries need you as they adapt to a new age

editorial image
Have your say

THE one certainty in life is that in any life time there will be change to those things we took for granted and this is true for that most traditional of public services – the library.

The changes are three-fold. What you find in a “library” has altered from just books to a huge array of on-line information resources via a computer. Library buildings are no longer traditional soaring columns, grand entrances and solid-looking stone.

A new library building in London’s Canada Water challenges our visual sense of perspective as it grows outwards as it rises into the sky. Library services are no longer centred on what is contained within the building, or even the immediate neighbourhood.

Libraries now provide us with access to the information of the world via the internet which can transmit authoritative word and authentic image in digital formats.

It is time for our expectations of library and information services to match these changes.

It is somewhat ironic that in a decade when technology has the greatest power ever known to transform our ability to inform ourselves, our public library system and a major source of information is in considerable danger of contracting to an extent it becomes invisible.

What is more surprising is that in this time of acknowledged “austerity” so many of us are buying subscriptions to on-line services like “Ancestry”, or purchasing a single newspaper to read on-line when these and many more resources are available for free if you possess a valid library membership card. Explore your local library service, you will find more than you expect.

Many people still consider that book lending is the beginning and end of library services. Recent statistics from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy show a decline in lending from last year, but lending is only one library facility.

So much can be gained by a physical or a virtual visit. Exploring the range of services on offer, with the help of a trained and knowledgeable librarian should enliven the most jaded minds.

If you live in Kirklees and have been enthused by the newly-digitised British Library collection of 19th century newspapers, explore it for free in the library or via the 24 hour on-line access facility. Supporting your local library saves you money.

Libraries pride themselves on providing a foundation for learning and reading that can last a lifetime. Catering for young and teenage readers can be challenging when one considers the competition from music, games, video and on-line entertainment.

Providing these facilities in a library may seem like pushing a boundary but it will be essential if our next few generations are also to be encouraged to use libraries for exploring science and technology as well as literature and the visual arts.

This represents a move from passive learning to active participation and exploration in the creation of new knowledge. It should be encouraged and we should all let our local library know we would like to have available to our younger generations. You can join the 2012 campaign “SHOUT OUT” for school libraries.

Recently Doncaster and York were placed in a top 20 of places for online book purchases. Instead of buying to read on line, why not borrow e-books for free from a library?

There are still copyright and other contractual issues to be sorted to the satisfaction of some publishers and authors, but you will find e-book collections in the York, Leeds and North Yorkshire library systems. Support your library and save yourself money.

The forthcoming year is unlikely to be the most optimistic of times to hope for investment in the development of library services. Campaigns to save local libraries are active throughout the country and the regular on-line update from “Voices for the Library” are a useful way of keeping up-to-date, as long as you can access them either at home or in your local library.

Before closing libraries, councils must take into account local opinion on their plans and the impact they will have particularly on the more vulnerable members of their communities. Save the date – Saturday, February 4 – to save libraries.

What many authorities are hoping is that rather than lose their local library, volunteers will come forward to preserve the service. We need to question what that service will look like, what strategy is being followed in turning over the libraries to be “community-led”.

CILIP recognises the value of volunteers in libraries and is in favour of communities driving the agenda for their local library service. However, it insists that public interest can only be properly served by having a professionally-managed service connecting the vast and invaluable network of all UK public libraries, including the vast resource that is the British Library. It is critical to the well- being of our society that libraries remain involved in the agendas of health, education, economic and financial planning and are the authoritative resource for information for the public.

We do not want a “fossilised” book lending service to replace the vibrant, information-rich environment that is provided by having a strategically planned and professionally-managed library service, that is appropriately designed for the area it serves.

Many individuals cannot contemplate a life without a local library but there is no doubt that more encouragement is needed to create that enthusiasm in others. Not only for that valuable commodity of books, but also for following your interests and informing your business needs. The best support your local library can have is that you use it. It really is that simple.

Biddy Fisher, from Denby Dale, is a past president of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals