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This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

Report shows need for a unifying digital presence for libraries

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Libraries in the Digital Age

We live in an increasingly digital world. More and more people are using digital devices as part of their daily lives. As with other sectors such as commerce, transport and entertainment, people expect to find excellent online services that seamlessly interface with those provided in physical places.

Using a library app on a smartphone to renew a library book at home.
Using a smartphone to renew a library book at home. Photo credit: Julia Chandler

Instead, library websites often frustrate users rather than delight them. Much of current library IT was designed decades ago and each library system has its own “language”, rather than a shared digital infrastructure speaking one common language. This means libraries struggle to partner nationally and so maximize their potential.

As Brian Ashley, Director of Libraries, Arts Council England, eloquently puts it: "Public libraries, as trusted spaces, free to enter and open to all, provide us with a unique connection between the physical and digital worlds. That exciting potential has yet to be fully realised."

The report: ‘Essential Digital Infrastructure for Public Libraries in England: A Plan moving forward’.

As I outlined in my previous blog, the Taskforce has a number of workstreams in its digital programme, including exploring the need for a Unifying Digital Presence for Libraries.

The report published today [plus annexes] produced by Bibliocommons on behalf of SCL and The Reading Agency examines the potential for public libraries across the country to develop a digital presence offering existing and potential users of libraries a richer, more engaging digital experience.

This report outlines a substantial period of research and engagement with library users, non-users and stakeholders, and provides evidence of the impact a poor digital offering has on library users and potential users alike.

What other Taskforce members thought of the report

Kathy Settle, Chief Executive of the Libraries Taskforce: “People are increasingly using digital channels to carry out day-to-day tasks and to discover and explore new information and connections. As such, they expect to see a strong online library service that seamlessly joins up with the services provided in the physical library space. This report is an important first step in understanding what is needed and what could be achieved through a unifying digital presence for libraries. The Taskforce will continue to work with SCL and other key partners to consider how to best take forward the ambitions set out in the report.”

Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library: “This report explores some of the most important and challenging questions for public libraries as they grow their services to meet the demands of the digital age. I am looking forward to reflecting on the findings of this study with other members of the Libraries Taskforce, and across the sector more widely.”

Sue Wilkinson, Chief Executive of The Reading Agency: "Our ambition is to inspire more people to read more so we welcome a report which, as well as identifying the need for a more robust, cost-effective and technically savvy digital infrastructure, highlights the benefits it will bring both to existing library service users and to those of the future."

So what happens next?

SCL and the Taskforce will consider the report’s recommendations in more detail, engaging with a range of partners, to consider the benefits that would accrue to users, to libraries, to partners, alongside the delivery options and associated costs. Based on this, an action plan will be developed, recognising the priority for this work alongside the other workstreams the Taskforce is progressing. A steering group is being established to take the action plan forward.

In parallel, we will continue with the other workstreams in our digital programme and update you regularly on our progress. Remember you can subscribe to this blog to receive alerts when we publish.

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