The changing face of libraries
It was good to hear the BBC debating libraries again on Tuesday. (BBC Radio 4 "Shop Talk") Tim Coates was there doing some “retail” challenging and Andrew Stevens from the Museums Libraries and Archive Council (MLA) agreed that bookshops have taken the lead in marketing and presenting their wares and libraries can learn a lot from them. (btw Andrew did a keynote presentation to the Talis Insight conference too in November).
Heather Wills from Tower Hamlets explained their Idea Stores and how the initiative was based on major market research so they were providing what people wanted like better locations, 7 day opening and access to IT. She took pains to emphasise the role of books and that borrowing was going up (in contradiction of the national trend). Books have become a sort of cipher to represent unchallengeable cultural value I think. It’s assumed we all agree books are good so we don’t have to go further and debate their underlying cultural value. Indeed libraries are (by literal definition at least) about books and certainly this is what the last November’s report to Parliament on public library matters states as the “core purpose of libraries” To my mind the underlying value of books (and more widely of course the process of reading and literature itself) was far better expressed in the same month by Philip Pullman in his Guardian Article (itself an extract from an article in Index on censorship) and the danger to democracies if they “forget how to read” and in effect lose their imagination and demand that reading is “for” something—in essence only to support a particular agenda or outcome. That why I think the work that Rachel Van Riel of Opening the Book is doing is important. She also gave an invigorating keynote presentation at the Talis Insight Conference in November