A new chapter – the Carnegie UK Trust report on public libraries

Front cover of reportAbout six weeks ago (yes, I know, I’m late to the party), the Carnegie UK Trust recently published a report called A new chapter: public library services in the 21st century. The report reviews the current position of public libraries in the UK and the Republic of Ireland and is based on five omnibus polls conducted by Ipsos MORI and desk research. The polls surveyed 1000 people in each of the five jurisdictions (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland).

They have produced a full report and separate factsheets for each of the five jurisdictions and a separate Discussion Paper. It all makes for interesting reading. (I’m not a slow reader, I’ve just been busy and away!)

It doesn’t appear to have been picked up hugely by mainstream media, but did get more coverage in Scotland, where the Carnegie UK Trust are based and a few blogs e.g. Sluggero’toole which has included several of the nice graphs from the report and the Public Libraries News blog. It was also mentioned in the Scottish Parliament.

I’m not going to summarise the report here as that would take too long, and the blogs mentioned above are quite comprehensive anyway (and I’m trying to wean myself off long blogs). I’ll include a few highlights though. The main chapters are:

  • changing context
  • government policy
  • current challenges and opportunities
  • public views on and use of public libraries
  • shared vision of the library service of the future.

The key findings that relate to Wales are very interesting and useful, particularly to CyMAL, and they put Welsh public libraries in context of the other jurisdictions. This is useful for us for comparisons as we’ve conducted/commissioned market research and user/non-user surveys before, but have not had the comparative information to put Wales in context to see how Welsh libraries fare.

If you’ll indulge me for a minute, there are several aspects where Wales does well. This includes having clear library policy development and a core vision for libraries (in Libraries Inspire) and a means of measuring library performance.

However, Wales does have the lowest level of public expenditure per 1,000 population on public library services across the five jurisdictions (see graph in section 3.2, page 10). The graph shows that historically Wales has been at or near the bottom for at least a decade, in terms of local government expenditure on libraries. The report does not correlate the level of investment with performance across the jurisdictions though.

The report also found that 29% of respondents in Wales said they rarely or never read books (compared to only 12% in Scotland). Unfortunately this finding echoes the poor PISA results for Wales in 2010 (where Wales was ranked 38th of 67 nations for reading; Scotland was 15th), and Estyn’s recent concern about literacy particularly among 11-14 yr olds in schools in Wales. Libraries can and do play a part in encouraging children and adults to enjoy reading and we need to capitalise on the opportunities available in this area, and shout more about the good work going on. Maybe opportunities will come through the recently proposed National Literacy Programme from the Welsh Government, and you can have your say on the Programme in the open consultation which runs until 12th October 2012.

On a more positive note for Wales it found a high percentage (76%) of people agreed that the library is essential or very important to the community. Previous research commissioned by CyMAL found a similar high level of support for libraries in the community. We know that libraries as a ‘brand’ have a strong level of support, although  not everyone sees the personal benefits to using them or we’d all have 100% of the population as library members! Increasing usage and membership is part of the Wales national marketing strategy for libraries for 2012-16.

One other finding that stood out for me was that the report found that there is often a difference between what people say and what they do (attitude vs. behaviour). This gap is best seen in the significant percentage of those surveyed who said that a modernised library would not encourage them to use it more. Usage data from the Community Learning Libraries capital grant projects in Wales shows the opposite is true: dramatic increase in use follows modernisation projects e.g. of up to 100% increase. Sometimes we can’t always trust what people say in surveys!

The report also outlines the next steps the Carnegie UK Trust propose to take following publication. These include supporting and facilitating joint learning across the five jurisdictions to develop better shared understanding on the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and solutions for the public library service. Watch this space!

About alysontyler

Civil servant, yoga teacher and former librarian.
This entry was posted in CyMAL, England, Libraries, Northern Ireland, Publications, Republic of Ireland, Research, Scotland, Wales and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A new chapter – the Carnegie UK Trust report on public libraries

  1. Pingback: A new chapter – the Carnegie UK Trust report on public libraries | WHELF

  2. Pingback: A new chapter – the Carnegie UK Trust report on public libraries ... | Librarysoul | Scoop.it

  3. Re: “significant percentage of those surveyed who said that a modernised library would not encourage them to use it more. Usage data from the Community Learning Libraries capital grant projects in Wales shows the opposite is true: dramatic increase in use follows modernisation projects e.g. of up to 100% increase. Sometimes we can’t always trust what people say in surveys!”

    I assume the increase in usage is based on stats a few months after the projects? If so could they just be people that are curious about the new building? (And in some cases include people who go along just to confirm their suspicions that things aren’t necessarily improved – for many the word ‘modernisation’ has negative connotations too). If so the statistics don’t necessarily show a permanent increase, just a temporary one – only comparing usage stats 12 months (or 120 months) later would show if the real general usage rate had gone up. Many of these projects are perhaps too recent to have a long-term picture developed? I’m just curious because I know that spin can lead to headlines of increased usage when it is just temporary, which makes me wonder how much of that increased usage is long term. It’s a topic where I’m happy to be proven wrong, since more people using libraries is a great goal.

    • alysontyler says:

      Thanks for your comment and your views Karl. From the Welsh grants perspective, the usage is recorded from 12 months prior to the same period after opening. So, if the library re-opens on 1st July 2012, the figures would be comparing the visitor figures of July 2011 with those of July 2012. Some reports do include previous years as well. (They also compare all months, not just the one month of re-opening.) The formal CyMAL paperwork timetable means that their reports to us do not show 3 or 5 years later, but, we could maybe look at this in a few years when the refurbished Welsh libraries have been open for several years.
      With my research hat on, I would also say that people might well respond to a survey by saying X wouldn’t make them do Y. But, when they actually do experience X, they may find that it leads to Y after all. So, I don’t believe we can always fully trust survey findings. Or statistics for that matter!

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