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Susie Meggitt: Free internet and Starbucks coffee soon at your local library

March 30, 2010

Great news for library lovers! Free internet, coffee shops, Sunday and late opening hours are just some of the ideas planned for our public libraries.  According to a recent report by accountants KPMG, poor literacy costs the economy over £2.5bn.  It’s no surprise then that just weeks before the election, Margarent Hodge, Minister for Culture released the policy statement, the modernisation review of public libraries, listing some of these obvious but really rather great initiatives to get us all reading and contributing to the economy.

Libraries are free,  34 million people visit them every year and on average, libraries cost just 5p per person per day to run.  In her introduction to the review Ms Hodge says: “With more branches than McDonalds or Boots, and more visits to libraries than shoppers in London’s West End, the public library network is a triumph of infrastructure and branding.”

The Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) also published its manifesto last week, outlining the core ways that libraries help local people and calling for continued investment in this critical resource.  The manifesto clearly states that libraries are adapting to and meeting the needs of local people, and every library in the UK is focused on core principles of reading, learning, literacy, and digital inclusion. 

The BBC also picked up on the news commenting that ‘the proposed changes come after figures showed visits to libraries fell in 2008/9 and adult book issues were significantly down.’  It also quotes the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy that says; ‘while loans of adults’ books in England have steadily declined in the past decade, children’s book issues have been increasing year on year for the past five years.’

When you think about it, it is amazing how libraries have survived and been so prolific considering how little they’ve adapted to the constantly changing digital universe.  I would like to think that a lot of the credit for a continued rise in children’s issues is due to author visits, and the power of face-to-face storytelling in both libraries and schools.  To ensure this continued growth, it is clear that we authors not only need to keep writing the stories that keep children reading, but also think about the way we tell them off the page and on the screen.  And according to these pre-election promises,  it looks like libraries may, possibly, perhaps, finally be on their way to facilitate more of this in more interesting and relevant ways.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 1, 2010 5:47 pm

    I’m delighted to read that at last libraries are being recognized for the important resource they are. However, I cannot agree with your comment on ‘how little they’ve adapted to the constantly changing digital universe’. In Islington libraries, for example, you can set up your own email address, book time on a computer, have access from your own computer to what books you have out, make reservations, renew books and so on. Islington Libraries also subscribes to the Dictionary of National Biography – something which would be expensive to do privately. All you need to access it is your library card number.

    The fact that adult book loans are shrinking, in my view, can be explained by the savage cuts in money available for new books. When my first novel was published in 1980, the libraries bought about 800 copies. Nowadays you’re lucky if they buy 250.

    Still, at least children’s book loans are up!

    What is desperately needed is for libraries to be properly funded.

  2. Megg Nicol permalink
    April 25, 2010 8:42 pm

    I used to love going to the library when I was a child and having a story read to me. I delighted in thumbing through the picture books and pretending that I could read. I in turn took my son Ollie to experience the same delights, but suddenly as an adult—all the fun seemed to stop—and it all got a bit serious and stuffy. A cup of tea and a chat–would help—a coffee–perhaps a bookclub—to create a buzz and a new creative atmosphere. Yes, I’m all for it!

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