Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Where is the country heading?

There is increasing awareness in the public arena of the growing threat to public libraries, through the fantastic work being done by the Voices for the Library Group and by young professionals like Johanna Anderson and her Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries campaign.   Added to this is the slower and less visible erosion of school library provision across the country, as described by Caroline Roche on the CILIP communities blog. 
 CILIP also reported a couple of weeks ago that the Government consultation paper ‘Liberating the NHS: An Information Revolution’, while a welcome focus on information management, missed out on consideration of the role of external content in the health service:
“...the importance of information to clinical practice, medical education and Continuous Professional Development by NHS staff, and the needs of research are not given sufficient coverage.”
Overall the picture is not a happy one.  Widespread misunderstanding &/or ignorance exists of the vital role that librarians and information professionals of all types play in ‘making sense’ of the information overload that is widely accepted to affect many people. 
Further closures of public and school libraries could deprive many of the most needy groups in society of access to information.  This loss is occurring at just that time in history where the internet and social media are making information literacy vital to success; success in work but also in life, in education, in getting a job, in claiming benefits, and so on across an ever increasing spectrum.
What will this country look like in 5 or 10 years time?  What will it be like if there are children growing up without access to a library of any kind, GP Consortia instead of PCT’s, again without librarian support to give them the medical evidence on which to base practice, and unemployed and disadvantaged people with no one to help them get online?
It doesn’t sound like a country to be proud of.  Blaming the public, or anyone else, for this state of ignorance won’t help resolve the problem, however.  If we are to avoid this situation becoming reality then all librarians, information professionals, knowledge managers – whatever we call ourselves – have to band together and reach out to the public and the government and make the case for librarianship.
- Nicola Franklin


  1. Whilst no politician will have the balls to say it, isn't it really the truth that libraries are simply no longer as relevant as they used to be? You say that closure of libraries will deprive many of the most needy groups in society of access to information. That's poppycock! High proportions of people of every social and income group have home computers and this is where people now go when looking to access information. In fact, the internet revolution has given the entire world a level and ease of access to information that libraries never could. We all self diagnose on-line, we read news, blogs and books online - libraries never offered this breadth of access.

    Libraries are outdated, expensive and simply not as relevant as they once were. Should public money be spent supporting enormous buildings that are crammed full of books? When the truth is, fewer and fewer people need or use them.

  2. Dear Anon

    Thank you for posting a comment to my blog post.

    I am sorry that you feel that it is 'poppycock' that needy groups need libraries to access information. This idea was based on Office of National Statistics data, which showed that in 2010 9.2m people in the UK had never accessed the internet, with 45% of people over 60 never having used it and 55% of people without any formal qualifications never having used the internet. There are therefore significant groups of people within our society who do not 'self diagnose news, blogs and books online'. I would also contend that libraries do offer breadth of access, with free internet available via the People's Network and trained librarians to guide first-time users in how to create and email account or find the webpage they need.

    Discussion of these issues is important, and you might like to listen to the recent Radio 4 You and Yours programme on 8th February which was on this topic, at

  3. The first comment was written by someone who might never have used a library. It's not a question of availability on the internet. If that were the case how come bookshops are still going and in full force. Publishers are still pumping out thousands of books on paper every year, despite of, or maybe because of the Kindle. Libraries aren't just book warehouses anyway. They never were just that. They're all about learning and studying too. In an environment which promotes this. Some people don't have anywhere to even study using a computer.

    So what is being suggested? We close all school and university libraries because "it's all on the Internet?". How very naive. This applies equally to public libraries which should represent a haven for those not able to work, read, learn or research in an academic environment but who nonetheless need these facilities. This should be a fundamental right nto a privilege and it is absolutely the sign of a civilised society. Closing libraries is a very short sighted idea.

  4. Dear Anon (2)

    Thank you for adding your comment to the discussion.

    It's true that the logical conclusion of poster (1)'s argument is to close all school, university, government and other libraries if 'it's all on the web' - and when you extend it in this way the fallacy becomes obvious.

    It all comes down to who deserves to have access to information - only those who can pay, privately, to have it at home or everyone no matter what their circumstance?

    Another aspect is that NOT all information is available on the free Google-searchable web. Much is still hard copy only - digitising it all is simply too expensive and would take too many man-years to accomplish - and much of the highest quality data is behind pay-walls (in subscription databases for example). Are the 'close the libraries' brigade advocating each individual pays £'000's in subscriptions to gain access to this?