In April 2017 the Carnegie UK Trust issued their latest research report on public libraries in the UK and Republic of Ireland. This a guest post by Jenny Peachey, Senior Policy Officer, Carnegie UK Trust, and author of the report where she writes about the findings and particularly about Wales.
“It’s clear that public libraries in Wales have a special place in people’s hearts: just over ¾ of people (76%) say libraries are essential or very important to their community and just under half (46%) of those surveyed used a library in the past 12 months. This is an impressive level of sustained voluntary citizen engagement!
“In fact, there has been a slight increase in public library use in Wales from 45% to 46% between 2011 [date of the previous Carnegie UK Trust research] and 2016. There is more good news. Research by the Carnegie UK Trust, which compares library use between 2011 and 2016 across the UK and Ireland, has revealed that more young people in Wales are now using public libraries than they were five years ago. More than half (51%) of all 15-24 year olds now use public libraries in Wales, an increase of nine percentage points since 2011. There has also been a significant jump in library use is amongst households with pre-schoolers (0-4 years) and primary-aged children (5-11 years). Library use among both the most and least deprived socio-economic groups has also increased in Wales over the last five years.
“Interestingly, public libraries in Wales are also serving more people who are not voracious readers. Almost a quarter (24%) of people who rarely/never read or who read about only one book a year use a public library (a rise of 8 percentage points from 2011). These figures are 37% for those who read about one book a year and 51% for those who read about one book every 6 months – a 13 and 14 percentage point increase respectively.
“This is all wonderful – but, what, then, are the challenges moving forwards?
“First of all, frequency of library use in Wales has fallen from 57% to 41% over the last five years. People are therefore either choosing not to use the library as much as they once did – or are finding it more difficult to do so.
“Secondly, although 76% of people say libraries are essential or very important to their communities, only 37% say that libraries are essential or very important to themselves personally. This begs the question of how people who recognise the importance of libraries for others – but not for themselves – view libraries. Why is it that they don’t recognise what a library offers as relevant to them?
“Thirdly, 42% of people said that they would use the library more often if it was possible to search for and reserve books online – a service that is, in fact, already on offer in Wales. This (plus the finding covered in the last paragraph) points to the need to build on more effective communications and branding. After all, lack of awareness about what libraries offer means that the service may be misunderstood and underutilised by individuals and groups who could benefit from it.
“Fourthly, whilst being a prolific reader is a predictor for the likelihood and frequency of library use in Wales, a sizeable percentage (24%) of people who rarely or never read books use the library. The challenge here lies in developing services that continue to be attractive to prolific readers and services that are appealing to those who are not – whilst not inadvertently dissuading either group from using the library.
“Finally, since 2011, there has been an increase in the proportion of people who would be encouraged to use the library in Wales if a range of suggested changes and improvements were made. The most popular suggested changes in Wales are: providing better information on the services that are delivered, offering more events and providing other council services in the library. It follows that there is an ongoing need for public libraries to cultivate their ability to future-gaze, innovate and test out ideas in order to anticipate and meet community needs.
“Following from the challenges outlined above – and drawing on our research – we have set out five lessons looking at how public libraries can continue to contribute to many policy goals and improve people’s wellbeing for many years in the future. These are:
- Demonstrate value to policy makers, decision makers and funders to maximise public and other investment:
- Increase focus on tailored, personalised services whilst maintaining a focus on delivering a universal service
- Accelerate the development of a user-centred, data rich service with a strong online presence
- Invest in innovation, leadership and outcomes-based partnerships
- Enhance learning between libraries and across jurisdictions
“Those of us who work with libraries know that they are treasured resources in the heart of local communities. At the Trust, we remain focused on forging a positive future for the public library service and look forward to working hard with our partners to bring about the changes we need to ensure a flourishing public library service.
“You can read our country factsheet on how people in Wales use public libraries and what they think of them in both English and Welsh at www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/shining-a-light/”
Thanks for Jenny for her guest post.