Thursday, 1 November 2012

The future of the Library in the Digital Age

Prof. Sir Deian Hopkin, President of the National Library of Wales, provided the Bevan Foundation Annual Lecture at the South Wales Miners’ Library, Swansea on 12 October 2012 to an enthralled audience of Foundation Members, information professionals and others.  In times of library closures, swathing funding cuts, service deprofessionalisation and the use of volunteers, libraries are under threat. The Digital Age adds to these threats for libraries, but also provides opportunities.
Over 7 million people in the UK have never used the internet. In Wales, 30% of homes don’t have internet access, only 40% of adults have a smart phone and less than 15% have an e-reader. Therefore, Deian’s vision for libraries echoed Aneurin Bevan’s central principles in establishing the NHS: meets the needs of everyone; free at the point of delivery; open to all; based on need and not ability to pay.
Libraries are, and should continue to be, key agents in addressing the digital divide and its resultant social inequality. The London Borough of Tower Hamlet’s Ideas Stores demonstrate how contemporary libraries can be transformative and regenerative. This model works well in metropolitan areas. But what lies ahead for rural services – where the digital divide can be equally prevalent?  
In concluding Deian made five proposals for libraries in Wales:
  •       Work to ensure universal access to information - regardless of format.
  •       There should be a composite and strategic view of libraries in Wales, including establishing a national network of library services. The promises of Libraries Inspire (libraries at the heart of their communities, helping everyone reach their potential, reducing inequality, and improving economic and social well-being) need to be heeded.
  •       Counter “digital imperialism” and ensure public control of digital archives. Commercial cloud storage solutions provide very real threats to the continuing and free access for all.
  •       Treat libraries as educational rather than wholly cultural organisations.  Librarians have a vital role to play in delivering information and digital literacy skills!
  •       Support the training and development of library / information professionals. At a time of declining funding for postgraduate students this support will be crucial.
The lecture was followed by fascinating comments and questions session, including descriptions of existing library service collaboration, especially in areas of primary health care. As a result of this lecture The Foundation will consider organising a conference on this topic in the future. Naturally, CILIP Cymru Wales will keep a close eye on development s and will be key players in the continuing discussions.
Stephen Gregory
Policy Officer (Wales) - Maternity Cover

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