This isn't just a library, it's an M&S library...

So they want to put libraries in supermarkets, eh? Well that could work - depends on the supermarket. Iceland - maybe not. Kerry Katona eating snack-sized party favourites whilst dead-eyededly telling Jason Donavon about how she saved 33% on her access to SWETS resources, equals bad. But Marks & Spencer, on the other hand...

With deliciously free Wifi access, and an achingly gooey selection of online resources wrapped up in gorgeous single sign-in, presented on a bed of modern, bright interior with brightly coloured children's areas, filled choc-full of tender, flavoursome books, CDs and DVDs and more...

Etc etc.

Anyway, I'm behind. I only get online for short periods of time at the moment. But today I've had an hour or so to catch up with the latest headline grabbing library statistics, which equate to a drop in public library use in this country. I've got a big old blog post on statistics planned when I get more of an opportunity - in the mean time though, Ian Clark's piece is essential reading for everyone - read it now! :) The part of it that is really interesting is statistics from CIPFA show that while library footfall is indeed down, the numbers of web visits is up (from 07/08 to 08/09) by a massive 49%. A hypothesis immediately presents itself - the way people use libraries is changing, they don't have to visit them so often due to the accessibility that comes with internet access (not least because they can renew book loans online - that alone accounts for a huge amount of library visits no longer necessary), so although visits to the building are down, the use of the library per se is not.

Sadly, the Government - or, to be more specific, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport - have NOT chosen to take into account internet access in the report which forms the basis for the recent headlines. Take a look at the report for yourself - you can download the spreadsheets detailing the figures, as well as the actual Word document with all the analysis, here. It's 2010, yet the report only looks at library use from the point of view of whether its subject, to quote it directly, 'Has visited a public library in the last year'.

[snarky aside] Guess how I accessed this report? Online. So does that mean that, according to this report's way of analysing 'use', I haven't read it at all because I didn't go to Westminster in person and pick up a paper copy?

Buffoons. [/snarky aside]

Anyway, the figures are quite interesting - mainly fairly miserable reading, but the clouds part to let some light through on occasion:

  • Black and ethnic minority use of libraries is up since last year (it's only by less than half a percent, but hey, no one reads the details of these things anyway, right?)
  • People who are religious but who don't classify themselves as Christian's use of libraries is up since last year (same again with it being by only a tiny amount, but still)
  • 11-15 year old girls use the library quite a bit more than they did in 2006/07 when the figures were first collected
  • The number of 5 to 10 year olds (of both sexes) who have visited the library 'in the last we'ek has gone up by more than 20% over last year...

HA! Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, doom-mongers! On a serious note, I think that's encouraging - good to see that even during a down-turn in overall visitation, some minority groups are finding more reasons to visit than before. Incidentally, the report says, more than once, "The decrease in library visits is consistent across all socio-demographic groups." Maybe I'm missing something, but that seems quite a sweeping statement in light of the stats above. If the report itself glosses over any positives, what hope is there of the headlines picking up on anything other than the negatives? In the same Ian Clark blog post I linked to above, he makes another point I think is interesting, true, and very important: "...the narrative is not being controlled by the profession but by those who either do not understand the service or are trying to undermine it for their own ends." In this case, the Government itself is undermining the service with a report whose own headline conclusions are apparently determined to see only the negative even where the figures can be seen positively - it doesn't take much of a cynic to interpret this as a classic Tory 'softening up' before they unleash massive cuts. Happy days. How can we take back control of the narrative?

Interestingly, the sample size used to generate the recent, poor figures, are much, much lower than the sample size of the earlier ones. Does that mean the figures are wrong? Probably not, but they are certainly slightly less valid than the original ones - asking 6,000 people about their library use does not represent England nearly as well as asking nearer 30,000. Some of the regions surveyed are only represented by a couple of hundred respondents. Anyway.

Libraries in pubs and supermarkets? Yeah, why not.

Among the proposals the Government are considering is sticking libraries into pubs and supermarkets apparently. This has perhaps understandably met with some derision from the library community. But actually, I think this idea is considering.

Providing the pub and shop branches didn't replace actual purpose-built libraries, why not take our resources to where the people are already? After all, that's why social media works so well - that's why we all love Twitter. Because we're on Twitter anyway, so the news, views, links etc come to us. So why not follow a similar principle with libraries? Clearly the part of libraries that would easily transport to other venues is mainly going to be the traditional 'borrow a book' part - but that's okay, it will get people interested, and maybe, just maybe, they'll be tempted to visit the library proper and see what else we have to offer.

Maybe there'll even be a Halo Effect! (See the comments section of this previous blog post.) So to use the example in that link, the National Archive digitise collections, and then withdraw them from circulation in order to preserve them. They do this on an epic scale; more and more gets digitised every day. The statistical upshot of this is fascinating - physical consultation of the actual collections they digitise goes down (in most cases to near zero), but physical consultation overall goes up. People are finding what they want online, and they get so hooked and interested that they end up requesting other stuff which hasn't been digitised, so they have to go to TNA to see it in the paper. Digital use and paper use are both way up, together.

Perhaps it is worth, then, trying to embrace the idea of libraries in different places and ensure it's done well so we can reap any benefits, rather than just assuming it's a completely hopeless idea...

- thewikiman