Thursday, 17 September 2015

Great new Pew Research Centre report on public libraries in the US

Many of you may know about and have ready previous Pew Research Centre's reports on public libraries in the US.  A new report called Libraries at the crossroads has just appeared & I think it has some interesting readying for all of us.  Of course it is about the US, but I believe that there are sufficient parallels for us to take note.

Part of the work of this report has been to survey people about what they think their libraries should be doing.  While we're not 100% customer driven, and have a responsibility to exercise professional leadership we should certainly take note of customer expectations.  So in the US the four key things many American say they want their public library to do are:
  • "support local education;
  • serve special constituents such as veterans, active-duty military personnel and immigrants;
  • help local businesses, job seekers and those upgrading their work skills;
  • embrace new technologies such as 3-D printers and provide services to help patrons learn about high-tech gadgetry."
While there are some cultural differences between Australia and the US I think that our communities' lists would broadly be much the same. 

So, how are we going at actively and consciously supporting local education?  Do our library staff have close connections with local schools?  How well do we understand the current Australian Curriculum & how has it influenced our collection development strategies?  How well are we connected with minority and potentially disadvantaged groups?  How are their needs factored into our service delivery planning?  And where is each library with its connections to local business, and to those seeking to improve their employment and employability prospects?  Are these issues driving our service delivery planning?  And yes - we're all in love with the new technology - which is great.  But providing access to it needs to occur within a deliberate skills and digital literacy agenda.

I really love the chart / column graphs which measure customer reactions to 10 key aspects of library planning, from free early literacy programs to moving collections out of the way to free up space for reading rooms and cultural events.  It is interesting to see how many (but not all) of these 10 hot button issues relate to our recently released State-wide strategic plan for libraries called Tomorrow's Libraries: Future directions of the South Australian Public Library Network

Two of the three top things that people want relate to teaching early literacy (97% say libraries should definitely or maybe do) and digital literacy  (96%) with the other issue being the links to schools & providing resources for this purpose (94%).

One apparent conundrum is that having more comfortable spaces for reading, working and relaxing scores 85% while 70% of people are concerned about moving print books out of public locations to free up space to provide these people spaces. 

I think that for many of us this has become a false dichotomy where we have been prepared to sacrifice collection size to create the spaces for people.  Have we have ducked the more difficult and costly challenge of actually increasing our library sizes to meet the new demands of our community?  Have we have cannibalised our longer term core value of information (in books and other media) to embrace our newer core service of providing increased people spaces?

Having had the benefit of visiting libraries across Australia and in many countries I can see that relative to many other places South Australia's public libraries are on the whole much smaller than elsewhere.  And I can see the trade off between collection sizes and people spaces in some of the statistics for our libraries - where quite a few larger libraries have collection sizes well below the ALIA recommended public library standards and guidelines, and quite a few libraries are below the size they should be as per the State Library of New South Wales People Places guidelines.

So, it is great to see research being done in other countries, which probably has quite a bit of relevance for us.  In the absence of any definitive local data it can certainly be used as one information source as we continue to plan for the ongoing revolution which we're currently undergoing.  Take a look at the Pew report, make a comment & also please share any other interesting professional literature which is shaping your thinking at present.

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