A twist in the tale
Across the country, public libraries are being marginalised. They are no longer regarded as vital institutions of knowledge and culture – inspirational places where connections are forged, ambitions take shape, hopes are realised and civic cohesion enhanced. They are no longer the soul of the city.
Now, their future is disputed. Disparaged as the declining purveyors of a dying technology – the printed book – and faced with unprecedented financial constraints, local authorities are cutting library services and closing branches. It is predicted that by 2016 over 1,000 public libraries will have closed since 2009 and over 3,000 librarians will have lost their jobs.
Dimly aware that the public continues to value public libraries, some councils make half-hearted efforts to keep libraries open by turning them into soulless mash-ups of customer services outposts, PC clusters and a few shelves of books.
The James Reckitt Library Trust understands that this is not what Hull City Council wants to happen. The Council’s Library Strategy for 2014 through to 2019 seeks to set out a more positive future. It places a welcome emphasis on connecting people digitally, ensuring that residents have both the access and the skills required to become digitally connected, particularly in terms of job seeking, health, personal financial information and benefits. But Hull is not immune from the massive financial pressures being placed on local authorities. Even in Hull, library services have been reduced. The threat remains.
The Trust does not believe that public libraries face inevitable decline. We believe that people still want their libraries, as usage levels confirm. But the Trust insists that libraries should not remain padlocked to the past. Libraries can only thrive in the future as places where technology is embraced and where a new conception of what libraries can achieve is forged.