In the last month there have been several reports published that could be of interest to librarians. I have been really busy in work and haven’t been able to do separate blog posts for each report, so this is a catch-up post. (I apologise that some of them are public libraries only.)
Children, reading, and electronic devices – National Literacy Trust (NLT)
The National Literacy Trust issued details of research it had conducted into children’s reading habits which involved 34,910 children aged 8 to 16 and which has some very interesting findings. It found that on-screen reading had taken over print reading for this age group, and, that those who read mostly on-screen were far less likely to enjoy reading, less likely to be above average readers, and less likely to have a favourite book than those who read more print material. Other findings are:
- 39% of children and young people read daily using electronic devices including tablets and e-readers, but only 28% read printed materials daily.
- Children say they prefer to read on screen. Over half (52%) said they would rather read on electronic devices but only a third (32%) would rather read in print.
- Nearly all children have access to a computer at home and 4 out of 10 now own a tablet or a smartphone, while 3 in 10 do not have a desk of their own.
I wonder if the survey was repeated with adults whether the results would be similar. I generally read in print for pleasure, but will read on-screen for work. Although, thinking about it, I read blogs at home for pleasure too. On a five-day combined work and holiday trip to Scotland I have brought both print novels and printed work reports along with electronic work reports and electronic magazines (for leisure). We’re all turning into cyborgs.
‘Cross-European survey to measure users’ perceptions of the benefits of ICT in public libraries’ – published by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
This large report is based on research conducted in 17 European countries in 2012 and it sought to identify perceptions and types of use of public libraries and to understand the impact that public libraries in the EU have on users’ lives. They surveyed a sample of library users, the general population, and library staff in 17 countries, with over 40,000 people interviewed.
Nearly one in four adults in Europe had used a public library in the last 12 months, equating to 97.3 million people. In terms of general library usage, those living in Finland and Denmark were most likely to use libraries, at 67% and 57% respectively whilst those in many of the Southern and Eastern European countries have much lower levels of usage e.g. Greece (9%), Portugal (12%), Bulgaria (12%), Italy (14%).
In terms of computers, 4% of the EU population had used a public access computer (PAC) in the last 12 months. Computer usage was highest among young people between the ages of 15 and 24, those still in full-time education, and among those born outside of the EU.
The primary motivations for using public computers are the free nature of the service together with the lack of other options that people have. In particular, those who have no other options tend to be some of the ‘digitally excluded’ groups – the Roma, those with a disability, older people aged 55 and over, those not employed, and people completing their full-time education at a relatively early age. The survey estimates that 4.6 million adults first used a computer to access the Internet in a public library, highlighting the role that libraries play in setting people on the path to computer usage.
There are some interesting charts showing the differences in values held by people at a country level, although despite the differences, about seven in ten library users felt that ‘free access to computers’ and ‘free access to the internet’ in libraries were either very or extremely important.
The benefits of using public computers were also explored in the survey. Some 83% of the PAC users indicated that their PAC use had delivered at least one impact, the most common being saving time and money, but also more specific impacts around education, access to government services and access to resources and skills necessary to find work.
The report is full of interesting graphs and results at country level which gives an international perspective on library usage, computer and Internet access at home, and informal learning in libraries, and reveals differences and similarities between European countries.
The context for the research is the ‘Europe 2020 Strategy’ for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. According to the report “the EU has set ambitious objectives in many of the development areas to which access-to-information efforts contribute – specifically employment, innovation, education, and social inclusion. EU member states are expected to meet targets in these areas by 2020. There is anecdotal evidence that ICT access through public libraries can support the implementation of the specific growth, education, and cohesion policies related to the EU 2020 Strategy, such as digital skills and inclusion milestones described under the Digital Agenda for Europe (one of seven flagship initiatives of the Strategy) or informal and non-formal learning, which is mentioned in three of the seven flagship initiatives.” (p.8)
‘The Damage: the public library service under attack’ – Unison
Just published this week, The Damage by Unison focuses on the current state of public libraries in the UK, particularly around cuts, with responses of over 1800 Unison members from the public library sector.
It’s received wide coverage already, from the Bookseller, the Mirror, and library campaigner Alan Gibbons. The Mirror newspaper focuses on the changes such as new charges for some services, and charging for Internet access which it notes will affect the unemployed and anyone claiming benefits online.
The key findings are presented in a summary of two pages with the whole report being nearly 50 pages long. By my counting, there were responses from library staff in 18 of the 22 local authorities in Wales within the sample. Although 57% agreed or strongly agreed that since the cuts began they were unable to maintain the same standards, librarians are hard working and 79% felt that they had to work harder to maintain the same standards as existed before the cuts. On a positive note, over a third of respondents reported more activities for children and babies within the library, while a quarter reported that more activities aimed at young people are carried out. There are lots of graphs and charts in the report, including ones relating to to the level of qualifications held by the library staff – we’re an educated bunch it seems!
‘Envisioning the library of the future’ – Arts Council of England (ACE)
ACE is responsible for supporting the development of public libraries in England and they have undertaken research in the last couple of years to “help us to understand the future for libraries, and how we can enable them to develop.” Various surveys and reports later, they have now produced their response to Envisioning the library of the future. It’s a relatively short read and focuses on four main areas which are: placing libraries at the heart of the community, making the most of digital technology, ensuring that libraries are sustainable and developing staff skills for future libraries.
It led to a slew of responses ranging from positive (CILIP, Society of Chief Librarians), to neutral (Bookseller, LocalGov.co.uk) and to critical (Public Libraries News, Library Campaigner, and Phil Bradley). Being one step removed from it, as it applies to English libraries only, I can see how on the one hand it’s welcomed as providing some sort of focus for library development for the future, yet others are concerned at the lack of depth and, well, the ‘vision’ of the envisioning.