Digital libraries: modern skills mix for modern library services
Nick Stopforth, Head of Libraries and Information, Doncaster Council
Nick started by explaining that he is also a member of the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) and is the lead representative for their digital offer project. Nick started working in libraries in 2001 and his work has given him a keen sense of the issues faced by librarians in the public sector.
Part of his work and focus, especially with the SCL, is working on how to help people in public libraries use and develop digital skills. The SCL is developing “universal offers” which comprise of reading, information, health and digital offers. For the reading aspect, around 97% of local authorities have signed up and the SCL is working with others on the remaining three categories. The overall aims of these offers is to provide consistency across country libraries and to work together across local authorities.
One of the more challenging offers in the digitial offer. It is mostly a financial challenge due to the fact that upgrading whole systems country-wide is very costly. However, the more immediately achievable option is to ensure that there is provision of free web access with support from staff in all public libraries. This is made even easier by the fact that many libraries have already provided this service for some time. There is also an emphasis on extending this access to those with disabilities.
The slightly harder to achieve aim of this offer is to have federated access to resources and to digitise all archives for easier access. While not impossible, it is certainly more costly and presents longer-term challenges overall.
What is the purpose of libraries in the 21st century?
Nick’s personal point of view is that the core values of public libraries haven’t changed much since they were first opened. These values are based around free access to content and curation of that content for public use and social betterment. These values should never change, even with pressures from societal changes.
Innovation: don’t expect to be doing what you’re doing now in two year’s time. How do you make yourself future proof?
21st century libraries
Nick cited the Arts Council’s recent research and paper on envisioning the library of the future and recommended it as an essential read.
21st century libraries need to be:
- Relevant and responsive: e.g. e-books provision
- Accessible, welcoming and enabling
- Transformative: changing lives for the better
- Rich in content/cross-cutting content: Nick mentioned the recent creation of an academic and public library that sits in the same space
Also, if 21st century libraries are different to 20th century libraries, in what ways are they different and how should they be the same? What is their meaning to staff?
Short term drivers
- Politics: The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) allow local authorities to run services which means that there is no central guidance or prompting for services. In addition, local authorities in the North are cost-cutting more than those in the South, thereby making them more under pressure.
- Research/evidence base
- Partnerships: funding used to be more secure than it is now
Long term drivers
- People (the public): Many negative and damaging stereotypes have built up around libraries and librarians now need to be expert marketeers to deal with this. Also, the provision of library services vs. online expectations from services such as Google and Amazon are presenting a challenge. Finally, how can we reverse the trend of the recent downturn in library attendance?
- Technology/infrastructure: needs to be resilient, sustainable and sufficient training provision
- Areas of progression
- New library builds: with impressive central libraries being built, what about the local libraries?
- Modern service delivery: providing this against a background of instability and change is a challenge but you do not have to innovate with an entirely new building. There are simple changes to be made also.
Envisioning the future
- E-lending: dependent on funding and library skills of existing staff. Also, overcoming the challenges presented by publishers will take time.
- Digital skills: With 7 million people in the UK without regular internet access in their home, the public library has to play a supporting role. Many governmental services are going online only but many who need to use them do not have the skills or expertise to do so. Library’s will need to provide education to help people.
- Library 21: this development initiative is focused around providing and supporting digital reading content through e-readers. A large concern here is whether library staff are able to provide the necessary support.
On a personal note, I do not own an iPad because I have little need for one and also can’t afford one. While I can figure out most technology pretty quickly, I certainly would not be able to provide support to a user needing help in accessing an e-book through this method. More training is definitely a factor here if library staff are expected to provide support for burgeoning new technologies. I feel that this is a key issue around Cambridge University. Many library services are being developed and promoted for access on the move, but how many of us feel completely comfortable in advising on these access areas? I would argue that part of the development process of new services should be getting librarians and those on the front service line on board earlier so we don’t all inadvertently come across as technophobic stereotypes!
Be more entrepreneurial: as funding becomes more unstable, libraries need to look at new ways to fund their support services. One potential area that Nick highlighted is the public library as the new shop window for publishers. Arguably, with the downturn of the book shop on the UK high street, many people will get purchase inspirations for new books from their local library and this should be taken advantage of as a new form of partnership between library and publisher.
21st century public libraries as curators of content
Libraries creating content: one example of this is Youtube video marketing content
Potential of self-publishing: is it acceptable for Amazon to have a monopoly on this form of content creation? Libraries could encourage and support self-published authors in the community with training and providing a venue for launches.
How do we as librarians understand web content?
21st century public libraries as facilitators and enablers
- Helping with a full range of enquiries
- People skills should be a high priority with staff being made to attend CPD-related courses
- Digital education
- Supporting health and job needs through education and training
- 21st century public libraries as creators (or at least places for creators of content)
- Offering sessions on how to publish, make a website, use a mobile phone etc.
Nick mentioned a recent example of a library hosting an event through Making Spaces where participants had the chance to try out 3D printers and Raspberry Pi.
Overall, we should be using our metadata from our library management systems to design and tailor services.
The LIBRARIAN is a term of strength and we must overcome the negative stereotypes!
I found Nick’s talk to be really interesting and he gave me a lot of really useful ideas and thoughts to take back to my own workplace. I apologise for the choppy nature of my write-up of his session but he did bounce from idea to idea in quick succession which was very exciting but very hard to document afterwards!
I am a big believer in libraries playing an active role in people’s lives (regardless of whether it is a public library, academic, school, prison etc.) and Nick gave us all a lot things to think about, especially over the course of our ever-changing careers and profession.