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.
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.
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. We 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.
The deliberative research tested the public view of the purpose and value of public libraries. During the workshops, we explored in detail the public’s appreciation of public libraries – as citizens, as individual consumers or non-consumers of library services, and as taxpayers who fund public library services.
The deliberative nature of the workshops provided time and space for these participants to engage with each other, their own thoughts and perceptions of the library service, and with the views and opinions of other participants. Although the findings and the conclusions of the workshops cannot claim to be representative of the population as a whole, they offer an in-depth, thoughtful and robust insight into the reasons why the public values the library service.
For more information on the Deliberative Workshop method click here.