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World Library Congress – Closing Libraries is ‘short-sighted’

- August 26, 2019 in Featured, library, Open Knowledge, Open Knowledge Foundation

Closing down libraries to save money is ‘one of the most short-sighted decisions that public officials can make’, the World Library and Information Congress has heard.
Speaking at the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) annual congress in Athens, Open Knowledge Foundation chief executive Catherine Stihler said ‘libraries are too often seen as an easy target for cuts’. The former MEP for Scotland said libraries can also ‘fill the gap’ in the delivery of coding lessons and data practice in schools, to ensure people across Europe and the world have the skills for the jobs of the future. In 2017, it is estimated that more than 120 libraries closed their doors in England, Wales and Scotland. But a recent study by the Carnegie UK Trust found that people aged 15-24 in England are the most likely age group to use libraries. And nearly half of people aged 25 to 34 still visit them, according to the study. The IFLA World Library and Information Congress (https://2019.ifla.org/) is the international flagship professional and trade event for the library and information services sector, bringing together over 3,500 participants from more than 120 countries. In her address to the World Library and Information Congress, Open Knowledge Foundation chief executive Catherine Stihler said:
“Governments across the world must now work harder to give everyone access to key information and the ability to use it to understand and shape their lives; as well as making powerful institutions more accountable; and ensuring vital research information that can help us tackle challenges such as poverty and climate change is available to all.
“In short, we need a future that is fair, free and open.
“But this is not the way things are going in the UK, the EU, the US, China and across our world.
“Instead, we see in the UK, councils across the country facing major financial pressures, and libraries are too often seen as an easy target for cuts.
“But closing down a library has to be one of the most short-sighted decisions that public officials can make, with serious consequences for the future of local communities.” She added:
“There is a widespread misconception that the services offered are out-of-date – a relic of a bygone age before youngsters started carrying smartphones in their pockets with instant access to Wikipedia, and before they started downloading books on their Kindle.
“Today, the most successful libraries have remodelled themselves to become fit for the 21st century, and more can follow suit if they receive the right support and advice, and have the backing of governments and councils.
“I have long championed the importance of coding as part of the education curriculum, especially given that my home country of Scotland is home to more than 100,000 digital tech economy jobs.
“But while there remains a shortfall in what is delivered in our schools in terms of coding and data practice, libraries can fill that gap.
“Our world is moulded in code, and libraries offer young people an opportunity to bring ideas to life and build things that will bring joy to millions.
“So by embracing the future, they can continue to be an unrivalled place of learning, like they always were for previous generations.”

Protecting libraries and the vital role they play in local communities

- February 27, 2019 in Events, library, Open GLAM, OpenGLAM

This article was originally published in The Scotsman. With councils across the UK facing major financial pressures, libraries are too often seen as an easy target for cuts. In 2017, it is estimated that more than 120 libraries closed their doors in England, Wales and Scotland. That figure is likely to have increased last year. Thousands of jobs have also been lost, with libraries’ existence more reliant on volunteers than ever before. But closing down a library has to be one of the most short-sighted decisions that public officials can make, with serious consequences for the future of local communities. There is a widespread misconception that the services offered are out-of-date – a relic of a bygone age before youngsters started carrying smartphones in their pockets with instant access to Wikipedia, and before they started downloading books on their Kindle. But a recent study by the Carnegie UK Trust found that people aged 15-24 in England are the most likely age group to use libraries. And nearly half of people aged 25 to 34 still visit them, according to the study. Today, the most successful libraries have remodelled themselves to become fit for the 21st century, and more can follow suit if they receive the right support and advice, and have the backing of governments and councils. I am encouraged by the Scottish Government’s support for adequate library services across Scotland. Tomorrow, the tenth EDGE conference held by Edinburgh City Libraries will be held in the capital, where library experts from across the globe will gather to share good practice and discuss future developments. Everyone attending shares the same belief that libraries offer crucial support to help people help themselves – to support literacy, digital participation, learning, employability, health, culture and leisure. As a former MEP who founded the European Parliament’s All-Party Library group, I’m delighted to be attending this event in my new role as chief executive of Open Knowledge International. As experts in opening up knowledge, we help governments, universities, and civil society organisations reach their full potential by providing them with skills and tools to publish, use, and understand data. Part of our role involves delivering technology solutions which are particularly relevant for libraries. One of our initiatives is called OpenGLAM, a global network that works to open up content and data held by galleries, libraries, archives and museums. All over the world, libraries are coming up with new ideas to make them relevant for the modern age. Take virtual reality as an example, which is arguably the most important innovation since the smartphone. It not only provides a source of fun and entertainment but it has also become a platform to explore science, nature, history, geography and so much more. You no longer have to pick up a book in a library to learn about the Himalayas, the Great Barrier Reef or the Grand Canyon – you can explore them in virtual reality. You can learn by time travelling back to a prehistoric age or go forward into the yet undiscovered possibilities of the future. Virtual technology can also be used to visit places that humans can never travel to other than in the Hollywood world of Ant-Man – deep inside the body to a cellular level for example. And technology can be used to examine the impact of humankind on our natural world, particularly the consequences of climate change. I have long championed the importance of coding as part of the education curriculum, especially given that Scotland is home to more than 100,000 digital tech economy jobs. But while there remains a shortfall in what is delivered in our schools, libraries can fill that gap. Our world is moulded in code, and libraries offer young people an opportunity to bring ideas to life and build things that will bring joy to millions. So by embracing the future, they can continue to be an unrivalled place of learning, like they always were for previous generations. But libraries are much more than just places to learn. They are part of the fabric of a local community. At the EDGE conference we will hear from Henrik Jochumsen of the University of Copenhagen about the Danish ‘three-function model’ for libraries: as a place, as a space and as relations. Libraries can serve as a catalyst for change and urban development and build new creative partnerships in towns and cities, which in turn create vibrant, liveable and coherent communities. We will also hear about the Richland Library in Columbia, South Carolina, which has transformed into a ‘studio’ – meaning a meeting room with four walls can be a computer lab, storytime room, homework centre, book club, stage and theatre, all in one day. Last year, Liverpool Central Library was named the Bookseller’s Library of the Year in the UK. Its success, which has resulted in a steady increase in customers, stems from the decision to make the building part of the community, with events where people create art projects, and late-night openings until midnight. And being part of the community means providing a service to every single member of that community. While some people in society become ever more marginalised, there is a job to be done to ensure that digital library services are more inclusive to all, including people with disabilities. And as more people live into old age, libraries can play vital role as a dementia friendly space. They also provide an important resource for migrant families to develop their reading skills with access to dual language titles. Public libraries have been at the heart of our communities for decades, and I dearly hope that continues for decades to come. And with technological advancements, they can become more useful than ever before. But their success is also dependent on those in a position of power recognising their worth.

The Library of the Future: A Vision of 1983 from 1883

- January 30, 2019 in future history, libraries, library, retrofuture, retrofuturism

The American librarian C.A. Cutter looks forward from 1883 to "the library of the future" in 1983.