How can Public Libraries meet their users’ online expectations?

New report looks at creating a Single Library Digital Presence to support Public Libraries in the future
Today sees the launch of ‘Essential Digital Infrastructure for Public Libraries in England: A Plan moving forward’. The report, written by BiblioCommons, looks at how users experience their libraries currently and outlines an approach to building a single digital presence for libraries. The report is funded by the Arts Council and supported by a wide range of partners.

Full report and appendices here.

Key findings from the report include:
–Today’s library IT was largely designed 30 years ago.
–Library websites frustrate users instead of serving them.
–Current library digital infrastructure keeps libraries from sharing audiences and resources online with national nonprofits and government partners.
–Current digital infrastructure prevents one library from adopting the best practices of another and discourages innovation rather than promoting it.
–Libraries struggle to partner nationally because each library system has its own set of software speaking different languages, rather than a shared digital infrastructure speaking one common language.

According to the Office for National Statistics figures, the world outside of libraries is rushing ahead online:
–The number of households with access to the internet has increased ten-fold, from 9% to 84% (1998-2014)
–Only 3.6% of households cite cost as barrier to web access (2014)
–The percentage of adults who go online daily has doubled from 
35% to 76% (2006-14)

The report and BiblioCommons’ work represents a substantial period of research and engagement with library users, non-users and stakeholders and aligns with the recommendations made in the Independent Library Report for England. SCL has worked closely with other sector bodies, particularly The Reading Agency, to develop this work and has engaged with the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce partners.

Ciara Eastell, SCL President, said: “SCL is committed to ensuring that libraries are able to meet the needs of local people and communities. It is essential that digital technology is used effectively to support the ongoing development and delivery of library services. Today’s release of the BiblioCommons report provides new insight into the potential for a compelling digital presence which could support reading, information, health and learning services in libraries. SCL looks forward to working with its partners, current suppliers to UK public library services and other interested parties to build on this initial report and to take concrete next steps in making a single digital presence a sustainable reality.”

Brian Ashley, Director of Libraries, Arts Council England, said: “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 and, as the development agency for libraries in England, the Arts Council wanted this report to stimulate fresh thinking that will support the realisation of that potential. The next steps will
not be easy but, working with our partners in SCL and the Libraries Taskforce, it provides an opportunity that should be seized.”

Kathy Settle, Chief Executive of the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce, said: “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, said: “SCL have played a valuable role in commissioning this report, which 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 Library Taskforce, and across the sector more widely. ”

Sue Wilkinson, Chief Executive of The Reading Agency, said: “At The Reading Agency our ambition is to inspire more people to read more so we welcome a report which looks at the different ways in which we might achieve this in a digital age and the benefits which it will bring both to existing library service users and those of the future.”

To consider how best to develop an effective digital presence for libraries SCL will engage with all partners and a wide range of library users and suppliers to determine what level of investment will be needed to achieve the project aims. Improving the digital offer will take initial investment as well as ongoing work to look hard for efficiencies in the way that library services manage their digital infrastructure and content. SCL will work with its partners on the Libraries Taskforce to seek external sources of investment. In addition, SCL will engage with library suppliers, library services and other interested parties to identify the potential for more efficient use of existing infrastructure.

SCL is working with JISC on a single sign on pilot project that will provide library customers with one login to use all of a local library service’s online resources.


Notes to Editors

Media contact:
Elizabeth Elford, Advocacy Manager, SCL on or +44(0)7891 056114
The Society of Chief Librarians with funding from Arts Council England and supported by the Reading Agency, commissioned this work to plot a digital roadmap for the public libraries of England. In addition to the terms set out in the invitation to tender, this strategy document was required to meet challenges identified in the Independent Report on Public Libraries, and to further its three major recommendations:
1. Provision a national digital resource for libraries.
2. Set up a task-and-finish-force to provide a strategic framework 
and help with implementation. 
3. Work with local authorities to improve local library services, 
encouraging appropriate community involvement.
About the Partners

The Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) leads and manages public libraries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. SCL is made up of the head of service of every library authority, and advocates for continuous improvement of the public library service on behalf of local people.
The Reading Agency is the UK’s leading independent charity whose pioneering work brings the joy of reading to the widest possible audiences across the UK, in partnership with the public library service.  The charity’s mission is to create and deliver innovative reading opportunities that inspire more people to read more, encourage them to share their enjoyment of reading with others and celebrate the difference that reading makes to all our lives. The Reading Agency is funded by the Arts Council.
Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2010 and 2015, we will invest £1.9 billion of public money from government and an estimated £1.1 billion from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.
The joint central and local government Leadership for Libraries Taskforce was established by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Local Government Association in March 2015 to implement the recommendations from the Independent Libraries Report for England. Members include representatives from local authorities, national bodies such as Arts Council England, British Library, Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) and the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL). This dynamic partnership has started to foster and promote a new way of working across the library sector and beyond.