Friday, 6 February 2015

It’s Not Just About Books: The Golden Thread of Libraries. National Libraries Day Saturday 7th February.

That libraries are not just about loaning books is a fact clearly recognised in the recent Independent Library Report for England, undertaken on behalf of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.  William Sieghart, the report’s author, underlined the library’s importance to local communities:

“It [the library service] underpins every community.  It is not just a place for self-improvement, but the supplier of an infrastructure for life and learning, from babies to old age, offering support, help, education, and encouraging a love of reading.  Whether you wish to apply for a job, or seek housing benefit, or understand your pension rights or the health solutions available to you, or learn to read, the library can assist.”

A significant proportion of the population use the library services.  In the year to September 2014, 34.8 per cent of adults reported visiting a library.  When actual visits to a library and digital visits to a library website are combined 38.9 per cent of adults had engaged with the library sector in some way in the last year. 

Patterns of library attendance reveal the library service attracts the public in some groups more than others.  Between September 2013 and October 2014:

  • Library usage was consistently higher amongst women than men (39.8 per cent for women compared to 29.5 per cent for men)
  • Adults in upper socio-economic groups had a higher rate of library attendance than people in lower socio-economic groups (36.0% compared to 31.0%)
  • Adults between 25 and 44 years old had higher rates of library attendance (40.5%) than adults in all other age groups
  • Adults who were not working had higher rates of library attendance than those who were working (37.6% compared to 32.9%)
  • Adults with no limiting disability had higher rates of library attendance than those with a limiting disability (35.7% compared to 32.6%)
  • Adults from black and minority ethnic (BME) groups had higher rates of library attendance then adults from the white group (46.5% compared to 33.3%)

The Society of Chief Librarians which leads and manages public libraries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland identifies four key areas integral to the role of public libraries:

  • Health:  to contribute to the positive health and well-being of local communities
  • Information:  to support people to access information and services online in life-critical areas such as careers and job seeking; health, personal financial information and benefits:
  • Digital:  to develop use of digital services, skills and access
  • Reading:  to develop, deliver and promote reading

These key areas have evolved as the library service has evolved and continues to evolve as society develops over time.  Currently in development is a fifth area focused on learning.

National Libraries Day on Saturday 7 February is an opportunity for library users young and old, regular visitors and those new or lapsed to the service to see and experience these key areas at first hand.  February 7th is the first day of a week-long celebration of the work of our libraries with events and activities being hosted in libraries up and down the country.

This celebratory week of library service must not be seen in isolation but as part of a longer successful library history that has for the last 150 years been run by local government.  The Sieghart report describes libraries as the “golden thread throughout our lives”.  In this sense this valuable service has touched upon the life of us as individuals and the life of the community for generations.

Sieghart’s description of golden thread is both a fond reminder of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, a novel many will have first encountered at school but it is also a constant refrain of David Cameron.  The Prime Minister has repeatedly used the term “golden thread” in connection with development in tackling poverty.  Owen Barder in his blog for the Guardian points to a speech in 2005 in which David Cameron outlined his definition of the golden thread as economic empowerment.  This economic empowerment is as Owen Barder describes “about enabling society to evolve and change more rapidly and more fairly”.

The golden thread of the library service is its role to continually develop and empower individuals and communities alike.  The Sieghart report points to the fact that at least 20% of the population have no digital technology at home and far more of the population do not understand how to get the most out of the technology they do have.  In this case the library service plays an important in tackling this skills poverty.

As pressure on local authorities continues to grow to cut budgets to the bone library services are a soft target for some politicians stuck with an outdated and stereotypical view of libraries being solely about books.  UNISON expects some 936 libraries, out of the 4,265 across the country we had in 2010, to be closed - or handed to volunteers to run - by 2015.  Cutting library services will remove one of the very tools needed to develop and empower communities to build a stronger and fairer society.

Sieghart says “[it is the] fervent belief among the [independent report] panel members that the future of libraries as community hubs is essential for the well-being of the nation.”  Cutting library services will cut the golden thread to communities.

National Libraries Day

To find out more about National Libraries Day follow the link
Find out more about your local East Midlands libraries by visiting the links below:
To find the Independent Report on Public Libraries in England undertaken for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport follow the link:
The Quarterly Statistical Report for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport can be found here:
The Society for Chief Librarian’s four key areas can be found here:
The Guardian Article on David Cameron’s use of “golden thread” can be found here:
To Read More about Owen Barder’s blog in the Guardian follow the link
The UNISON article on cuts to libraries can be found here: