I don’t want to write too much about The Edge 2010 conference, because I’m going to be submitting a piece to the Public Library Journal, but I do want to get a bit down about it, because it really was a brilliant two days. Here are a few highlights.
Edinburgh Castle, the conference venue
Susan Benton is the President and CEO of American Urban Libraries Committee and gave a fantastic keynote speech about the value of the work of public libraries. She emphasised the need for leadership, partnerships and publicity to send this message loudly and clearly to local authorities, national governments and communities. As well as the need for leadership in terms of promoting and advocating our services, public libraries could act as physical examples of sustainability in the community; working out of green buildings and being actively involved in recycling, etc. as well as offering involvement opportunities for local businesses and educational establishments would enable libraries to take the lead in an increasingly important area. Susan also expressed the thought that public libraries are trusted by communities and are often the first place people go to for information, advice and support. This is something that libraries need to be aware of and use to their benefit in serving their communities.
Nicky Parker and Councillor Mike Amesbury from Manchester City Council presented the plans and developments for Manchester Library and Information Services, which are considered an important political priority in the area. The libraries were given a poor report six years ago, which prompted action to improve their services drastically with an investment of £255 million, being spent on, amongst other things, 2 new buildings, widespread renovation and a virtual library. The challenge in Manchester was to decide which buildings to rebuid and which to adapt; this has been met innovatively with the decision to never build a standalone library again, instead to co-locate with other services such as adult learning centres. Strategically locating libraries in the heart of communities alongside other public services, near transport links, schools and homes, will hopefully make the library service more a part of the community.
Manchester Central Library (CC by harshilshah100 at Flickr)
Mancester Library and Information Services are also investing in new technology such as RFID, automated storage and retrieval, self service and return and book vending machines. I hope that the introduction of these will make the service more widely used and not discourage people from using the Central and City libraries. Although the automated storage system is meant to make access to books easier and because of the current layout of the Central Library does not reduce the amount of open shelving, I am concerned that in public libraries, automated storage may not be as suited as it is in the British Library. Much of the book lending in public libraries seems to take place after time spent browsing the shelves and coming across something they were not deliberately seeking – I worry that taking this away will reduce the chances of someone serendipitously borrowing something wonderful and unexpected. A benefit of the self service borrowing system, though, is the ability to borrow books anonymously – this may have the opposite effect and encourage more people to borrow the items they want or need but are too embarrassed to take to the counter. I would be interested to see the results of any studies conducted!
I particularly enjoyed the speech from The Leader of Newcastle Council, Councillor John Shipley. His conviction that public libraries with their add-on services have become an essential public service that people should pay taxes for other people to borrow books and use libraries was inspiring. Libraries are cheap for the services they provide, efficient and effective – and if they are accused of being high cost – they should be proud, because it means that a valuable service is being provided. Bravo! There’s more about what he had to say on Ewan McIntosh’s blog. As he says, it truly was profound.
Edinburgh’s new virtual library, Your Library, was introduced by Liz McGettigan, Head of Edinburgh Libraries & Information Service and Jim Thompson, Quality Development Manager. Although 97% of Edinburgh’s population live within walking distance of a library, 97% of the population choose not to visit a library. The new Virtual Library is not designed to replace physical libraries, but to work alongside it and serve those who cannot or do not want to make the trip down the road, offering a Talis OPAC, image database, e-newsletter, community organisations database, full text ebooks and audiobooks. Citizens will be able to become members of the library online, and the website features Browsealoud support for the visually impaired, making the service more accessible.
This is by no means everything I found interesting, but I have too much uni work to be doing to be able to write a longer post, and as I say, I’ll be writing a big thing later.