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Friday, 13th June 2014

UK: Evidence Review of the Economic Contribution of Libraries

Source: Arts Council England (UK)

From the Introduction:

The aim of this review is to identify and review the available evidence at national level and provide Arts Council England and the wider libraries sector with a better understanding of how libraries create economic benefits. Arts Council England is strongly aware of the large range of activities that take place across libraries in England today, and the unique role that they can play in the lives of individuals and local communities. The Arts Council was therefore keen for the review not only to explore the direct economic impact libraries may make, but to also identify and consider the indirect ways in which libraries make an economic contribution via the social and educational benefits they provide (through their core services and the many other activities they offer).

This literature review comes at a challenging time for libraries. Reduced local authority budgets have led many library services to face a period of restructuring. Alongside the current pressure on funds, libraries are also facing a further longer term challenge to traditional measures of use: both library visits and book lending have been in steady decline for the past 15 years.

Not all is doom and gloom. The role of libraries as community spaces that provide a gateway to a wider range of public services has become increasingly important, and in this area of their work libraries have seen some increase in funding through various programmes and initiatives. Take-up of services such as ICT provision, programmes and activities is also on the increase. Overall visitor numbers are falling but statistics show that large parts of society still consider libraries as essential or very important for their communities (whether they are library users or not). That policy makers believe in the lasting importance of public libraries is demonstrated by the fact that alongside library closures, 40 new libraries were opened in the last 15 months, including new flagship libraries in Birmingham, Liverpool and, most recently, the renovated Manchester Central Library.

Nevertheless, to move on successfully, libraries clearly need to continue to adapt – to a different funding climate, new financing models, new technological opportunities, as well as to changing visitor needs and behaviour. And in order to be able to do so, libraries (just as the wider arts and culture sector) also need to provide sound evidence of the social, education, health and economic contributions they make to society, in order to secure future public (and private) funding.

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Having begun his career in academic libraries, Adrian Janes has subsequently worked extensively in public libraries, chiefly in enquiry work as an Information Services librarian. In this role he has had particular responsibility for information from both the UK Government and the European Union. He wrote a detailed report on sources for the latter which was published by FreePint in 2007, and has contributed articles to FreePint and ResourceShelf. He is involved in training in information literacy and the use of online reference resources.

A Contributing Editor to DocuTicker, he also write reviews for Pennyblackmusic.

Adrian can be reached at adrian.janes@freepint.com

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