Long Live The Public Library

Do you use your local library? Surprisingly according to a survey by public opinion site, YouGov, although the presence of the high street library is diminishing, use by the general public remains strong.

Research has shown that with the arrival of the world wide web and our fondness for high tech equipment enabling us to purchase e-books in favour of the paperback kind, public libraries are considered out dated, stuffy places which no longer meet the needs of the public. However, the reality is very different.

Public libraries are fantastic hubs of information. Free to join in most cases, the library not only offers access to books and information but can be the centre of a community, providing services for the young and old.

A new YouGov survey finds that despite the fading presence of libraries on British streets, use remains strong: almost half the population (47%) have used a public library in the past 12 months.

A third (34%) have used one in the last six months, while 13% have used one between 6-12 months ago. Only 1% have never been to a public library.

Additionally, the majority (51%) have a current library card (one that is not out of date), however only 42% of 18-24 year olds do compared to 62% of those over 60.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport say that current usage of public libraries has fallen from 2005 levels of 48%. But many blame the drop on cuts: a spokesman for the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals said “Local authorities have had to make tough choices, but libraries are under pressure and cuts to services will mean that visits drop”.

During these tough economic times visiting a library is a fantastic way to save money and there are many good reasons to join.

Libraries offer an affordable way to learn about a topic you are really interested in. You may be interested in a new language or simply investigating rare books and extending your knowledge on a specialist area. The library will have a wealth of information that you can view and for a small fee, any research material that you would like can be ordered or reserved.

Many adults and children will agree that there’s nothing like a good book and Oxford research has proved that reading can improve your life skills. Whether it’s a best-seller or the latest autobiography, books are expensive to buy yet libraries will have several copies on offer. Most libraries will also provide an educational resource for children with interactive materials to extend their language skills.

According to the Office of National Statistics, 23% of people do not have access to the internet at home. As another great source of information, Libraries offer free access to the internet with capabilities to scan, print and photocopy material.

For those wanting a quiet area to study, libraries are ideal places where staff with specialist knowledge are on hand to help you find the information you require. There are also facilities available for group study with late night opening hours.

From ‘rhyme time’ sessions for mothers and babies to book clubs and free access to family research tools such as ancestry.co.uk. libraries offer a community aspect where people of all ages can meet. There are also wall boards where local events are advertised and information on how to increase knowledge through joining educational courses or local volunteering groups.

Meeting Public Demand
Over the years libraries have evolved to meet the needs of its customers. Accounts can be managed online, in person or via the telephone and mobile libraries mean that you don’t have to visit the main building in order to renew a book. You can access free Wi-fi, and many have new and enticing coffee shops. Some also offer meeting rooms to hire for business events.

The Future
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said that local authorities were having to make tough choices due to cuts in government budget and this has sadly resulted in some closures of public facilities such as libraries. Campaigners who are fighting to keep our public libraries open have predicted that by 2016 the total amount of public libraries closures will sadly reach over 1000.

However, there is a strong argument which proves that libraries are not a luxury but a necessity in our towns. So maybe, the question is, how do we move away from the old stigma and market libraries as vibrant, resourceful places with surprising possibilities?


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