Panlibus Blog

Value and the future of public libraries

You know that a movement might be forming when two challenging ideas arrive on the same day.

1. I was reading an excellent article first published in American Libraries about value and public libraries (thanks to Lorcan Dempsey for the reference), at: This quote particularly resonated:

“Valuable does not necessarily correspond with the library staffs ideas of importance.”

2. Understanding value is an area that is challenging UK public libraries evidenced by todays publication of the Laser Futures Group report on the Future of Public Libraries.

Put these together and stir the pot.

One of the options the Laser report mentions is that the running of library services be handed to the regional MLAs and removed from local authority control. This would seem to be a way to remove duplication and inefficiency, but begs further research and brings us back to the question of value – the answer is in the eye of the beholder, so maybe we should ask the users. Does a large authority such as Essex provide better ‘value’ than a small one like Kingston-upon-Thames just because of scale economies?

I was in the audience at PLA this year when Jeff Jacobs, Director General at DCMS gave a challenging speech (no powerpoint!) on the need for libraries to prove their value. He got a frosty reception to say the least, but I thought he made an absolutely fair point – one that appears to be gaining some currency now. His point was to ask what benefit libraries give in terms of economic contribution to their communities, rather than an emotive argument about the value of culture.

I question what public libraries are doing to understand where they add value. I’m hoping that other people will be asking this question, even trying to answer it at the forthcoming 1-day conference on 4th March that the Laser Foundation have organised to discuss this report – possibly the most important day this year for UK public libraries. I’m very much looking forward to it and I’ll blog the day.

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