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Arts Council England publishes research into the library of the future


Arts Council England is today publishing Envisioning the library of the future – a major research project* undertaken over the past year that will help library staff, funders and the public to better understand what libraries could and should look like in the future.

Alan Davey, Chief Executive, Arts Council England, said: “It’s good to hear how highly valued public libraries are by both users and non-users. And this research has also brought lots of great examples to our attention of how libraries are experimenting with new ways of working and constantly adapting to the needs of their communities.

“The vision of the library of the future is not a distant goal – it’s very much an attainable one. Envisioning the library of the future has shown us that collaboration is key. If everyone with an interest in and passion for libraries works effectively together, we can help the sector to develop and respond to the challenges and opportunities that are presenting themselves. And we can all be ambitious about the future for libraries.”

The research has confirmed that public libraries are trusted spaces, open to all, in which people continue to explore and share the joys of reading, information, knowledge and culture. People will continue to value the services that libraries provide in the future.

The research also indicates that public libraries face many challenges in the coming years, including: advances in technology, which affect the ways in which people want to connect to information and culture; reduced public expenditure; the increasing involvement of citizens in the design and delivery of public services; and the needs of an ageing population.

In order to nurture the library sector to be as successful, sustainable and enjoyable as possible in light of these challenges, the Arts Council has set out four priority areas for development:

1. Place the library as the hub of the community
2. Make the most of digital technology and creative media
3. Ensure that libraries are resilient and sustainable
4. Deliver the right skills for those who work in libraries

Recent debate about libraries had understandably focused on the immediate issues of funding, library closures, and the perceived tensions between books and digital technology. As a result, an understanding of the valuable role and purpose libraries can play in the future success and well-being of communities had not developed.

Envisioning the library of the future and the work that comes from it will help the Arts Council and partners in the library sector to talk about the value, role and purpose of public libraries with more clarity, pointing out ways they can respond to change in order to remain at the heart of their communities.

Ed Vaizey, Culture Minister, said: “Public libraries matter – they play an important role for communities and help celebrate and promote Britain’s greatest contribution to world civilisation – our language and literature. But libraries need constantly to adapt to keep up with changes in communities. This report offers a thoughtful and timely analysis of issues facing the sector today, and I am happy to endorse the recommendation for a collaborative approach to addressing some of the issues raised. I commend it to everyone who, like me, believes libraries can and should have a positive future ahead.”

Janene Cox, President, Society of Chief Librarians, said: “The publication of Envisioning the library of the future is very timely. Backed up by robust evidence, Envisioning re-asserts the value, role and purpose of the public library service. SCL are keen that the many ways that libraries contribute to literacy, health, well-being, growth and prosperity are recognised. We know that communities are passionate about their public libraries and we welcome the opportunity to help lead and deliver on the aspirations of Envisioning.”

Arts Council England will be working on the four priority areas with partners across the library, cultural, commercial, voluntary and academic sectors, in order to make real the ambitions set out in Envisioning the library of the future.

Arts Council work already underway to assist libraries in developing around the four priorities includes:

• the Community libraries research, which sets out guiding principles for local authorities thinking about involving their communities in the delivery of library services, ensuring the decision is shaped by the needs of their constituency
• the £6 million Grants for the arts Libraries fund
• sharing good examples from some of the Libraries development initiative projects, which were completed in March 2013
• the Enterprising Libraries projects, in partnership with DCLG and the British Library, which will be launched in July 2013

The Arts Council is responsible for the development of public libraries in England. It is working with key partners including the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Local Government Association (LGA), Society of Chief Librarians (SCL), Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) and the British Library and will continue to develop new partnerships. The aim is to help create libraries which are at the heart of local communities, helping us to understand ourselves, our place in the world, and the heritage of the communities in which we live.

Notes to Editors:

- 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 Envisioning the library of the future research began in January 2012. In this time, researchers spoke with over 800 people. The online survey had over 1,400 responses, and 10,000 people viewed the online conversation. For more information on the Arts Council’s methodology, please see the website here:


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