Disrupting Poverty Manifesto – Libraries

Initial discussion focused on how libraries are used, and the fact that many public libraries are currently visited much less often than you’d hope! The function of many libraries has also changed from offering books to offering services as well.

We decided that libraries need to re-focus their energies on books (in their various forms – ebooks, audiobooks, reference and the rest)and, crucially, literacy.

Most importantly, libraries must be made relevant to the communities who use them. This might involve outreach to families to show why their local library is relevant and how it can help their children.

We discussed a lot of ideas around what kind of things these re-defined libraries would house. Highlights included:

  • Children’s book clubs to encourage parents and children to read
  • Hold reading and writing classes
  • Material available for young people studying forexams
  • Broadband internet access
  • A book-exchange programme

We also questioned whether expanding mobile library services would be more beneficial than the traditional library building, embedding outreach into the service itself.

As to how this would work, a number of options seemedworkable. Libraries could be housed in schools and run through them. They could be volunteer run and much more localised within communities. Services in poorer areas could be cross-subsidised from richer ones. What’s most important is that something is provided that meets the needs of potential users in the catchment area.

In conclusion:

  • Libraries should be free for all to use.
  • They should be relevant to the communities they are in, with a focus in all cases on literacy.
  • We should be proactive in promoting the benefits of libraries to parents.

We have no set model in mind, just a model that provides what is needed.


About Mike Chitty

Trainer, consultant, management, performance improvement, entrepreneurship and small business expert.
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9 Responses to Disrupting Poverty Manifesto – Libraries

  1. Jane says:

    Love the thoughts on better utilisation of libraries and improved/expanded services. I’ve been impressed to see our library offering a home to other services and delighted to see special story sessions for young children and tots. However, this item made me question why, as an avid reader of books, I’ve rarely made use of the facility – particularly as I walk past it up to 6 times every week. Therein lies the answer. The library is not open at a time most convenient for me. Imagine if there were funds to keep it open until nine – or even ten… Imagine if there were public conveniences and a decent cafe… Imagine, if made attractive to teens, how many would chose to sit, at least for half an hour or so, in from the cold and possibly safe, for a time, from some of the hazards of the streets and/or the home…
    My kids, and plenty of others, loved booking a session to play computer games for a short spell on Saturdays, and they invariably came home with a fresh book each week. Books might not attract them in the first place, but as long as they are learner vital literacy skills, there’s a good chance they’ll be fans in the end.
    So, good luck with this part of the project. It’s clear where it fits in with disrupting poverty from my viewpoint. My head is buzzing with possibilities.

  2. Mike Chitty says:

    It might be cheaper to buy each borrower a copy of a book than to lend them one – apparently…http://t.co/g1naUrJV

    • Jane says:

      It looks like a numbers game. That has to be true if so very few people are now borrowing library books. All the more reason to explore other services to offer and attract more people in…

  3. Mike Chitty says:

    I have just received this via email from a professional librarian….

    Had a quick look at your blog post. The vast majority is eminently
    sensible and reasonable and is what library pros/campaigners/users are
    after too, especially the conclusions – point one is covered by the
    Public Museums and Libraries Act 1964 – public libraries can’t charge
    for membership or book borrowing (small charges are made in some areas
    for audiobooks, music, films etc, – tend not to be for
    children/disabled/elderly, that kind of thing). Yep, libraries have an
    essential role to play in supporting literacy, so point two is good –
    important also to be aware that literacy is a really big topic, it’s
    about being able to read well, understand what you’re reading, think
    critically, be able to tell what information is reliable and what’s
    not, be able to put the things you’re reading into a wider context and
    communicate that – it’s also about being able to know what info you
    need, where to find it, how to find it, what to do with it etc. – it’s
    increasingly known as transliteracy, which covers things like
    information literacy and digital literacy – all very important for
    tackling deprivation, making sure people have access to
    learning/knowledge/leisure/culture and enabling them to make it
    meaningful. Point three – yes, promotion to parents is crucial, it can
    also work the other way round – a lot of children, when library staff
    go into schools and promote the libraries, will drag their parents in
    after school and then that gets the parents into using libraries too.
    Where I worked in Doncaster, some parents even improved their own
    literacy through reading with their kids.

    In terms of the rest of the post – depends what you mean by other
    services beyond books – the outreach stuff libraries do is crucial to
    tackling deprivation and increasing access to
    info/knowledge/learning/culture, so they’re important – if you mean
    giving out bin bags and selling electricity cards, that’s the downside
    of being a council-run service in the heart of communities – you’re a
    useful point for them to use. If it takes away from core library
    services that’s not great. Refocusing energy on books, yes, but also I
    think if you’re talking literacy it’s also about electronic resources
    – books are a vessel, online databases, ebooks etc. are too – we can’t
    afford for libraries to fail to modernise to meet the needs of modern
    society. Books do serve a unique role though so their value should be
    promoted/defended, just not to detriment of other resources.

    Big practical/safety/ethical issues with libraries located in schools,
    can go into more detail if you’d like – basic point is location of lib
    within school needs to be considered, as do opening hours and when
    people can get in etc. Volunteer-run options have huge and complex
    problems, we’re seeing failures all over the place – it’s just the
    step before closure/privatisation, really. Again, happy to provide
    more info if you like. http://www.publiclibrariesnews.com has loads of info
    on the sidebars about the pros and cons of volunteer libraries.
    Council run services can meet local needs when they do it properly –
    councils need to learn. Volunteer libraries can easily exclude parts
    of communities – and they’re not accountable in the way councils are.
    Cross-subsidising I foresee being an absolute nightmare, will think
    more about it.

    Hope this is useful!


  4. Hi Mike,

    A great post – but I agree with Lauren about the issues of having a library in school. It’s important to remember that for many people, school was NOT the best days of their life. Why would they come in as adults when their memories of attending as a kid are not good?

    I think that there is something else we could do – and I am working on it – but – frustratingly – can’t put anything in the public domain for a few months. However, if you want to get in touch off-line (e.g. ring me) then we can work out how you might be able to get involved in it for Leeds?

    Have a fab week…

    Ems x

  5. Jon Beech says:

    We would do well not to overlook the role of libraries in the lives of people new to Leeds: in particular new migrants, and people wanting to learn english.

    Allowing libraries to open after hours to host ESOL and conversation clubs (yes, talking in the library) would be a start,.and would enhance more general literacy work.

    I’m sure some would also appreciate work around financial literacy (or numeracy, if you prefer).

    I’ve recently been involved in a project helping housing, education, employment services explain what they do to groups of migrant community activists, in a bid to help a wider understanding of their role and function, and how to navigate them more successfully.

    And every time I mention this, people invariably say: ‘I could do with this’. And so they could, if there was a place for this to happen.

    Making local libraries as curators and custodians of local information is the way forward, rather than relying solely on the One Stops. The unintended consequence of one to one discussions of individual distress, is that often, people are left with a sense that their difficulties are their own, and their resolution lies within the walls of the council. Civic spaces in which to learn and to discuss collective experience and action are getting fewer farther between. By setting themselves up as collective learning spaces, hosting local information groups, libraries could recapture their old vim and vigour as places where knowledge is produced as much as it is consumed…

  6. My Mum has worked in Libraries for as long as I can remember.
    Her Library has never been busier. It plays a key role in school education, child interaction with learning as well as being the home to other services for the council.
    The problem is that books cost money to keep fresh and up to date, they bring in very little money and need plenty of staff due to the dealings with the public.
    The question isn’t if libraries are still relevant but how we can make them sustainable. Sustainable in a financial sense not a green sense.

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