Over 300 libraries have closed in the United Kingdom since 2011 and many more are on the brink. What can be done to stem the tide? Publisher and philanthropist William Sieghart may have an answer.
William Sieghart’s Independent Library Report urges “a reinvigoration of the library network”, calling on Westminster to provide funding so local authorities can roll out Wi-Fi to every public library in England as part of a new national digital resource. The provision of Wi-Fi, it says, is essential, with its lack of availability in some libraries creating “a barrier to the public using its facilities, especially amongst the younger generation”.
“By not providing Wi-Fi and high-quality computer facilities, libraries often present a negative image of being old fashioned places that have little relevance in today’s society,” says the report, which calls for the Wi-Fi to be delivered “in a comfortable, retail-standard environment, with the usual amenities of coffee, sofas and toilets”.
Libraries minister Ed Vaizey heeded the call by the report by announcing that he had created a new task force to implement some of the proposed changes. The primary focus will be to evaluate e-lending pilot projects and establish tablets and e-readers to be loaned out to patrons.
This is not the first time that the library industry has gave serious credence to a report made by Sieghart. His 2013 government funded report said that libraries should not limit the supply of e-books in the same way that physical book loans are controlled, including the lending of each digital copy to one reader at a time, securely removing eBooks after lending and having digital books “deteriorate after a number of loans”.
This prompted a A pilot project to be established at four UK libraries in March 2014 that changed the digital loaning period to 21 days and included an expanded list of digital titles, including front-list and bestsellers. The goal was to establish real-time, real-world research into the impact of eBook lending in public libraries to placate authors, publishers and find a sustainable model.