Headlines: November 24th, 2010

Research commissioned by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council found that the English public widely value public libraries as a force for good and one that should be provided free.

The research, carried out by Shared Intelligence and Ipsos MORI, provides an up to date picture of what the public wants from library services, and gives a timely pointer to how councils, faced with difficult financial choices, should shape the service for the future.

Three quarters of current users surveyed described libraries as “essential” or “very important” in their lives. Fifty-nine per cent of non users also think libraries play an “important” or “essential” role in the community. But it also suggests that the notion of library users and non-users is an artificial divide and that instead people’s reliance on libraries tends to vary as their life circumstances change, for example through taking up study, becoming unemployed, having children or retiring.

While books remain at the core of the public’s expectation for the service, there is clear demand for customer-friendly features such as online book lending, children’s facilities, adult classes, helpful staff, convenient opening hours and a good cup of coffee.

Roy Clare, MLA chief executive, said: “This study helps point to where the library service should be heading at a critical moment as costs need to be cut. It suggests that it is better to plan for the longer term to provide a convenient modern service, with comprehensive book stock, digital access, helpful staff and a range of activities, than to maintain the costs of less-welcoming buildings with steadily reducing opening hours and declining stock.”