Published on January 2, 2014

Envisioning the library of the future

Past projects

By Tim Hughes

Tim is Open Government Programme Manager at Involve and coordinator of the UK Open Government Network - a coalition of active citizens and civil society organisations committed to making government work better for people through increased transparency, participation and accountability.

Involve and Dialogue by Design (DbyD) were commissioned by the Arts Council England (ACE) to explore with citizens the purpose and value of public libraries. Over the course of September Involve ran a series of deliberative workshops across England and an online consultation to gather people’s views – as citizens and taxpayers – on what the library of the future should look like.

Libraries have long played an integral role in the lives of many people and communities. They are an important source of information and knowledge, playing an important role in the ongoing education of citizens. Beyond this, they provide a shared public space where people meet and interact and can play a role in the development of communities. But while libraries have helped to shape, define and celebrate communities, they have also had to evolve and innovate as communities and society has changed around them.

Public libraries are going through a period of intense uncertainty and transition. With public funding being decreased considerably, the new financial context in which libraries now have to operate has created the need for libraries to demonstrate their public value, increase their reach and explore new models of delivery, including partnering and/or sharing services with other organisations, integrating library services with other community facilities, providing other public services, and/or involving library users in the governance and running of library services.

The pressure for libraries to innovate and adapt has, however, been around for much longer than the financial crisis. Social, economic, demographic, cultural and technological changes have meant that the number of people borrowing books has decreased and the way many people choose and expect to access and consume information has changed considerably over recent years. Libraries have had to respond to this by offering digital services and content, and identifying new ways in which to engage people. As a result, libraries have taken on much more of a role as a community hub and social space.

It is within this context of change that ACE embarked upon its programme of research to inform the development of a vision for the library of the future. We are excited to be working with ACE and DbyD to ensure that the ideas, views and values of citizens form an important part of that vision.

The section of Envisioning the Library of the Future which Involve and Dialogue by Design co-authored is available here:  Understanding what People Value about Libraries.

The full report is available here : Envisioning the Library of the Future

For more information on this project, please contact the project manager ingrid@involve.org.uk

Picture credit: Ellen Forsyth

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