Comment

10.02.16

Creating a better digital future for libraries

Source: PSE Feb/Mar 16

Ciara Eastell, president of the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL), writes about the importance of improving the digital infrastructure of libraries.

In January this year SCL, with support from The Reading Agency, published a report on the need for a single digital presence for public libraries. 

‘Essential Digital Infrastructure for Public Libraries in England’ examines the potential for public libraries to develop a digital presence that could offer existing and potential users of libraries a much richer, more engaging digital experience. The report represents the culmination of almost 12 months of research with existing library users and non-users, engagement with library staff (at technical, frontline and leadership levels) and discussions with key national organisations such as the British Library and the BBC. 

Reposition digital services 

It is a lengthy report but the executive summary does an excellent job of pulling together the key points, which are: today’s library IT was largely designed 30 years ago; library websites frustrate users instead of serving them; and current digital infrastructure is holding libraries back. 

Libraries received over 265 million visits last year – more than the total number of visits to football matches and the cinema, combined. Libraries provide immeasurable support to customers in all areas of life: from finding a job or gaining new skills to offering a safe, warm place for people to meet and connect, and then on to bringing the latest coding and digital technology to communities, free of charge. All of this happens inside the library. None of this is apparent from current library websites – all 151 of them. 

The report adds to SCL’s growing portfolio of work to reposition digital services as a core element of a modern and attractive library service, meeting the needs and expectations of local communities. It complements, for example, SCL’s digital leadership programme (which is just about to start with its third cohort of leaders); our sustained engagement with Government Digital Services to demonstrate libraries’ huge potential to deliver on the Assisted Digital and Digital Inclusion agendas and the Arts Council-managed work to ensure wi-fi availability in all libraries. 

The recommendations in the report are ambitious and extensive. But libraries have never shied away from a challenge, and we know that now more than ever before we must find a new digital way forward.

Next steps 

Over the next few months we will be meeting with suppliers of library management systems to discuss the report in more detail and have established a steering group to manage next steps. 

Securing some initial investment is clearly an important step and we will be working closely with the taskforce team and Arts Council England to identify potential sources of funding. As an immediate next step, we are working with colleagues at JISC (formerly known as the Joint Information Systems Committee) on an initial pilot for a single digital sign-on for public libraries that could substantially improve the user experience of existing digital collections. 

We would welcome input from both inside and outside the sector on taking this initiative forward. Please get in touch with us via www.goscl.com if you would like to collaborate on digital plans.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@publicsectorexecutive.com

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