There are over 65,000 public libraries in the EU, and over 100 million people visit them every year.
These numbers always feature in any advocacy message we, at Public Libraries 2030, deliver to policymakers. They demonstrate the potential and reach of Europe’s libraries – and that statistics matter!
In this week’s post the three parties that partnered together to bring the 2019 Libraries & Skills Fact Sheets to fruition will discuss their perspectives on the great initiatives such as Generation Code and the 2019 fact sheets. Public Libraries 2030, Princh and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) will all share text in this post.
Library statistics and advocacy
Policy makers like numbers – numbers help them to contextualise but also offer some kind of legitimacy to the messages they are hearing. This is why it’s so important for us to have numbers about libraries in our back pocket.
But when it comes to institutions like libraries – we know that numbers don’t tell the full story. How much can we know from the number of libraries, or users, or books borrowed? What we really want to show is how libraries impact their communities: knowing how many libraries offer free internet access is a good indicator of how libraries are helping people to get online in an increasingly digital world – but knowing how many people were able to get a job by applying online in a library – or even better, how poverty levels improved and people felt more included in their communities because they managed to get a job – that’s gold dust. But it’s incredibly difficult to get hold of.
Much of the important work libraries do is hard to capture: when a librarian asks an elderly patron how their day is going and makes them feel less lonely; or when they open up their spaces for everyone and a group of students set up a citizen science project… The difficulty is that the biggest added value of libraries is not only impossible to measure – often library staff themselves don’t even realise they are doing it.
Libraries & Skills Fact Sheets
We first launched the Libraries & Skills fact sheets in 2016. In our experience advocating for libraries with EU policymakers, while stories and examples go a long way, politicians consistently asked for data to back up our claims. With serious data, we can make the case for libraries to be right at the heart of key national policies and strategies for economic, social and cultural development. So, we took up the challenge – and went one step further.
A key focus of our advocacy messaging has been around digital upskilling (a key EU priority and an area in which we have seen many amazing libraries taking a lead) – and so we decided to highlight the connection between libraries and digital skills by lining up the data from both sides.
It is perhaps to be expected that countries of different sizes, structures, incomes and cultures measure things differently – but it is striking to see the difference in information collected about libraries across the different EU member states (as you can see when browsing through the fact sheets).
The EU collects data about digital skills (alongside plenty of other digital indicators) annually in its Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI). We chose to present the DESI data for every EU member state alongside data about that country’s libraries. We worked directly with national library associations and related organisations in every member state to collate and present as much data as possible – and in a clear, eye-catching way.
This year we updated and re-launched the Libraries & Skills Fact Sheets for 2019, working in partnership with Princh and the IFLA Library Map of the World (see further down for their take on the project!)
Advocacy in action! Generation Code: Born at the Library
Our recent event, Generation Code: Born at the Library, was a perfect opportunity to roll out the 2019 fact sheets. Taking place at the European Parliament in Brussels during EU Code Week, Generation Code features an exhibition which showcases how public libraries are embracing the digital age, with exhibits from a dozen libraries in Europe, as well as a “Meet & Greet” session, in which over 70 library representatives get together with Members of European Parliament (we counted almost 80 in total!) in their country to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing their libraries.
The fact sheets were a fantastic advocacy tool to share with MEPs, reinforcing our message about libraries’ potential in developing digital skills and offering opportunities to experiment with technology, as well as pinpointing the situation in each EU member state.
All of the Libraries & Skills 2019 fact sheets are available to download for free on the PL2030 and MEP Library Lovers websites. We encourage all library stakeholders to make use of the fact sheets however works best to support your advocacy efforts. Please do get in touch with Hannah from PL2030 (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions and suggestions, or if you would like a translated copy of your country’s fact sheet (we’re working on it!).
We are excited to see the Libraries & Skills Factsheets initiative grow – for example, we are supporting the fantastic Library Aid Africa project to run a pilot project to launch the fact sheets in Nigeria, with an ambition to expand to other African countries in the future.