21st Century Libraries – Are we there yet?

Anyone who knows me will know that one of the things I am truly passionate about is libraries. I was honoured to be asked to speak at the 100 year anniversary of the Carnegie UK Trust last October (you can see my speech here) to celebrate the work of the ‘Grandfather’ of public libraries Andrew Carnegie.

One hundred years ago when Carnegie had his inspiration for libraries he envisioned buildings full of books which were free to access, the public free to discover, learn and educate themselves – as he himself did. A century later and public libraries can’t just be buildings with books in anymore, people want more. They want to research their family tree, apply for benefits and look for work. Libraries have to offer local communities wide-ranging services and support in life-critical areas from careers to health, personal and family issues to finances. And increasingly they need to do it both offline and online. I’m so glad that so many of our libraries are evolving with the needs of their users and the times we live in.

I am very keen for Tinder Foundation to be a part of the library ‘revolution’ as over half of UK online centres are based in libraries and really help to make a difference. We have been working closely with the Society for Chief Librarians (SCL) who are the strategic lead for libraries. It’s a partnership I am excited about.

Over the last few months our fantastic training manager, Aniela Kaczmarczyk, has been developing a workforce development programme for customer-facing library staff. It was commissioned by SCL and funded by the Arts Council. Working so closely with SCL has meant that we have been able to gain access to many front line staff we wouldn’t ordinarily have been able to reach, and they have all been both committed and inspiring.

The task was simple – develop a programme to help ensure customer-facing staff in libraries have the skills, knowledge and confidence to deliver the new public library Universal Information Offer.

It’s becoming increasingly important for local communities to have access to the internet – and the skills to be able to use it. As more and more services go online, library staff have to be prepared to support individuals to access information that can be very personal – and in some cases essential to someone’s quality of life.

It’s a tale we’re familiar with – the multiple demands on libraries and library staff as tutors, advisors, supporters and sign-posters. The good news is that there are some really great libraries out there doing amazing things.

Frankley Library, for example, is a centre for excellence specialising in the support of people with disabilities. They have dedicated training suites to support disabled people. Lancashire Libraries, are delivering digital skills training across the whole library authority with a focus on supporting job seekers and great partnerships with local Jobcentres. Southampton Libraries are a part of our NHS Widening Digital Participation programme working with MacMillan Cancer support to deliver training to inform volunteers and those affected by cancer.

In delivering the library workforce programme, and working with such fantastic library ambassadors, we’ve learned a lot about libraries ourselves.

● Libraries are an extremely valuable resource in the local community. The breadth and depth of support library staff provide on a daily basis is phenomenal. Like the community-led UK online centres local staff responding to local needs is essential.

● There is more to helping people access online services than helping them gain basic online skills. It’s about people skills, building trust, confidentiality, and knowing when and how to refer to other service and agencies.

● There is lots of good work already happening in terms of library workforce development, and consultation with frontline staff has been essential in creating and building a programme that can really share that best practice and build on existing expertise.

Our training programme is now coming to an end, and the 50+ library reps that Aniela has trained will now be responsible for engaging other library authorities in their region and cascading the training down library by library. The roll out will start in September and the expectation is all authorities will have trained 99% of their workforce by March 2015.

I for one will certainly be watching with interest to see how the training is put into practice on the ground. Libraries are brilliant. I hope we’ve played a small part this year in making them even better.

5 thoughts on “21st Century Libraries – Are we there yet?

  1. Pingback: 21st Century Libraries – Are we there yet? – Helen Milner | Public Sector Blogs

  2. No libraries in rural areas, they shut them all down. You’re still trying to get people online when they would go online naturally if they could get fit for purpose connectivity at home.

    • Surely it’s not that simple, and I don’t know what “going online naturally means”, even if rural communities had amazing fibre connections tomorrow, people would still need help using it. Isn’t digital inclusion about getting the connection AND the help they need to use it?

  3. Pingback: Libraries News Round-up: 18 August 2014 | The Library Campaign

  4. Pingback: Independent Libraries: Freedom, Equality, Community | Helen Milner

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