Libraries have enormous potential in becoming a more integral part of citizens’ daily life but there still are a few factors holding them back potentially creating an existential crisis among libraries worldwide.
To find out more about the possible ways libraries can fight the crisis and remain relevant to the users, we’ve had another chat with Liz McGettigan, the President at CILIP Scotland and Director of Digital Library and Cultural Experiences SOLUS UK.
1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the roles you took in your work with the public libraries?
Prior to my current role as Director of Digital Library and Cultural Experiences at CILIP Scotland, I was Head of Libraries and Information Service for the City of Edinburgh where I led a team to deliver Edinburgh’s first fully-online council service, social media suite and 24/7 interactive portals and apps. I took the service from very poor to best in the UK. This was really where my love of all things digital began.
I am also passionate about leadership, learning and inclusion and especially the future and potential of libraries.
2. What do you think are the factors that led to the library crisis in the past years, especially in the UK? Is the lack of funds the only one to blame?
The lack of funds definitely wasn’t the only factor. We were guilty of complacency. There was a lack of foresight in risk of potential competition for our services and a lack of investment in library futurology and strategy.
Another factor was the lack of leadership and personalities at the top of the profession and that essential power to drive to get libraries to the top tables on council agendas. We allowed our buildings and interiors to deteriorate and we offered free partnership space and staffing to all and sundry.
A key factor was the lack of organisational capacity to drive forward a new vision of ICT within the modern public library and this is still the case.
Another key part of our downfall was and still is poor advocacy and the dreadful state of our promotions and marketing. We failed to challenge the perception that we were obsolete now that everyone had google and a smartphone. It is difficult to market and promote the breadth of services we deliver and the fact that our target audiences are from cradle to grave but we were guilty of poor organisational capacity.
However, the best libraries have become part of the solution, in part by teaming up with other organizations. Most of the great library professionals I know are engaged in our communities, and they are seen as key players in their communities.
I also think many of us have a “workaholic” mindset which means we are guilty of thinking we can do everything ourselves when really, we need the expertise of marketing professionals, lobbyists, advocates, designers, web professionals and media professionals.
3. Given this crisis, how can libraries still remain relevant to the public?
The UK has a fabulous, unique network of libraries, catalysts for addressing social problems, free, safe places where people can meet, be informed, learn and start learning about new technologies. They are spaces where creativity, collaboration, and play can thrive. There are many notable examples across the country and many are punching well above their weight, but we need consistency, quality and ambition and a rethink on organisational capacity, funding and philanthropy.
Library staff are the trusted faces of local government and a service millions of taxpayers choose to use. Our staff know their communities and are passionate about learning, living and contributing. This puts libraries and librarians in the best position to partner with local governments and agencies to address the needs of communities and our aging population – to become “citizen connecters”.
One of our significant challenges has been to undo our old gatekeeper mindset and rethink our business. We need to re-examine all our assumptions and rules and reform our work practices. We must look at the barriers we have constructed in a physical (library) world that are not required in a digital world.
We must change our approach, how well and how quickly can we get someone online accessing our fabulous resources and e-content, books, magazines and audio books. Customers should be able to be authenticated and have instant access to e-content and value without ever walking into their public library if that is their preference.
Connectedness means physical and digital of course, and obviously, we want to go beyond providing a disembodied online service. We know that libraries have so much more to offer in terms of social connectedness, partnerships, programmes and events. However, one of our most difficult challenges is getting to customers who would benefit from our services.
4. What is your advice for our readers?
There are more questions than answers – How do we balance the best of the virtual and physical worlds? What mindshifts do we need to make? What makeovers? How do we add the magic?
Those which will survive and thrive are those who grasp the need to create fabulous learning experiences.
There are many factors influencing our future and what the “library” will look like and for me, much of what the library will do may not even be about books at all but about simply connecting and enabling people to people experiences, bringing digitally focused but socially isolated people together in the physical world.
What is this new offer of physical and digital and social in perfect harmony going to look like anyway? Augmented Reality, apps, 3D printing, bookless libraries?
Innovative new spaces are reinventing libraries across the world and new platform and technologies are going to rock our world. This can all be a bit scary and we don’t know how it will evolve.
This is my advice:
– Find a big loud voice!
– Take time to think and dream as a team
– Develop your own new and exciting vision of the future library experience
– Engage and captivate your audience in new ways – engage in compelling ways to deliver the experience they demand, at a time and in a format that suits them.
– Empower your team to unleash its potential. Never underestimate the power of an engaged workforce.
– Disrupt, disrupt, disrupt! Disrupt our industry and stake your claim in new marketplaces. Don’t fear disruption, embrace it.
– Combine trusted traditional customer care excellence into sublime user experiences.
Hope you have enjoyed our talk with Liz McGettigan. In case you want to find out more about the subject, you can get in touch with Liz on Linkedin or Twitter. We will be back next week with another interesting article!
Share your insights with us and our readers!
We are always interested in finding new library experts to share their voices with libraries worldwide. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and be part of our Princh guest community!
Let’s bring together libraries from around the world!