A recent report from the Libraries Taskforce sets out an exciting and innovative approach to local libraries. It's encouraging to see central government take up a progressive approach toward libraries. For me, it's even more important that they acknowledged library use is changing. Amidst news that library usage is falling or outright closure, it becomes imperative that councils and local authorities step up efforts to make libraries relevant to the communities they serve.
A number of libraries have already become stronger through co-locating with other vital public services like NHS and dental surgeries. The new Ordnance Unity Library in north Enfield represents this type of service integration. My tour of the library, as part of our interim management work in Enfield's Inward Investment department, showed me that libraries can be busy, vibrant places for thinking, working, and accessing social services. The Ponders End Library down the road recently co-located with Age UK Enfield to help both organisations save resources and more efficiently serve their beneficiaries. I could see people coming in to access one service and, perhaps whilst waiting for an appointment, check out books or bring a laptop to get work done via the free WIFI. One could envision additional opportunity to include employment support and guidance at libraries as well. This is an excellent example of the types of innovation that the Libraries Taskforce advocates.
There is no doubt that libraries are not as visited they used to be. But given the funding challenges facing local authorities, I believe this is an opportunity for council's to rethink library use. And for local authorities and charities alike, there is potential cost and resource savings in co-location. Indeed, more dynamic-use libraries may help return them to thriving hubs once again.
Libraries can flourish and prosper but this will take change and new thinking about our service.