Libraries Not ‘Failing’ But Adapting

Sam Missingham shares an interesting and absolutely spot-on comment piece by Rupert Colley on his blog at Futurebook:

Footfall. Always an important measure of success for the public library. How many customers / users step through the front door and into your library. We must, we must improve our visitor figures. For the library service, as a tool for performance management, visitor figures remain Very Important.

And then, once we have our visitor, we give them their PIN, so that next time they want to renew their books they can log onto their PC at home and do so without having to come into the library. Or if they want to check the catalogue and reserve an item – armed with their PIN they can do so – without having to come in; to access The Times from three years ago; to check that entry on Who’s Who – all without having to come in.

And now, to add to it, if they want to read that new bestseller without waiting for the waiting list to diminish they can also do this remotely.

Which is exactly the point that so many people miss when they talk about the ‘decline’ in public libraries. In actual fact, the very opposite is true, as Missingham goes on to point out:

The library service is very different from what it was when I first entered the profession two decades ago. But to simplify a difficult question with a complex answer – are libraries failing? The answer? No. They are merely adapting. And they are adapting because, to remain relevant, they have to.

Much as some people would have the general public believe that libraries are failing (funny that this is being talked up even more in an era of government cuts), the reverse is true. As my earlier stats on library usage demonstrate, usage of libraries is actually up. The important factor being that there has been a change in the way people use the service. There is no point harking back to a mythical age and seeking to argue that libraries should look to the past in order to thrive in the future. Libraries and librarians should be looking to the future. Library users already are. This is the reality. And those claiming that libraries are in decline need to actually take a moment to look at what library users are demanding, instead of pontificating about what they think is best for them.


3 thoughts on “Libraries Not ‘Failing’ But Adapting

  1. Indeed.

    I think part of the problem is that some people also seem to believe that it’s an either/or proposition. In other words, you should either be doing the “traditional” librarians job and filling a space up with more and more books, or you should scrap ’em all and move in the computers.

    Of course, the correct answer is that you should be continuing to serve your traditional users, but continuously bring your service up to date so that you don’t suddenly find yourself with an outdated service, ripe for destruction.


  2. Exactly, it’s not about one thing or the other…it’s about looking to the future without completely ignoring the past. And as usual, it’s the professionals that realise this whilst the commentators miss the point. Like I said above, despite what some people may believe about looking to the past, librarians should be looking to the future and they shouldn’t be chastised for doing so by commentators outside the profession.

  3. Pingback: Trying to measure a library’s success by its footfall is like… « thewikiman

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