This weekend sees the fifth National Libraries Day, writes Mark Taylor, a country-wide celebration of libraries and why they matter to families and communities, to the economy and society.
National Libraries Day shines a light on a service that attracts more visits a year than Premier League football matches, museums and theatres combined. Libraries power progress – they change lives, communities and our society for the better. They meet a broad range of agendas including improving health, tackling digital exclusion, supporting business start-ups and employment, providing a place for communities to meet, and the chance to learn new skills. They do all of this with an open spirit and commitment to equal opportunities for all.
It’s also important to recognise that libraries are a statutory service, the public has the right to a “comprehensive and efficient” service and at CILIP we are campaigning for Whitehall to provide Local Authorities with statutory guidance to provide greater clarity.
So what exactly will we celebrate this Saturday?
Employment and enterprise
Libraries support growth not just by providing internet access to find work but also through specialised support to start-ups. The British Library led network of Business and IP Centres provide entrepreneurs and SMEs with the advice, support and resources they need to set up and grow. The network includes eight libraries across England that provide free access to databases, market research and reports, and run a programme of free and low-cost events. Over two years the network helped create 1,692 new businesses and 4,178 jobs. The equality of opportunities that libraries provide is clearly seen as nearly half the people starting a new business were women and over a quarter black, Asian and minority ethnic.
One in four adults and one in ten children have mental health problems in any given year. Too many people struggle with conditions on their own and do not access reliable information. Books on Prescription provides accredited self-help reading for common conditions such as anxiety and depression. Public libraries stock a selection of books and have advice information available. They work with local health services such as GPs and IAPT teams who prescribe books during treatment or any member of the public is able to self-refer and access the scheme. In its first year the scheme reached 275,000 people
Learning something new
There are a whole range of classes, books and materials available through our libraries that will support developing pretty much any skill you want to master. In a world dominated by smart-devices, apps and software teaching children how to code is one of the best ways to prepare the next generation to thrive in this digital environment. Code clubs run in libraries across the country and give children the chance to learn how to develop apps, games and websites. Library-based code clubs supplement ICT education in schools and give parents and carers the opportunity to find out about coding and why it matters.
Reading and discovery
Reading is incredibly powerful – as well as being hugely enjoyable it develops essential literacy skills, improves wellbeing and develops empathy skills. A recent OECD study identified that England’s young people have the lowest literacy levels of 23 countries in the developed world. Without good literacy skills success in education and employment will be so much harder. This is why schemes such as the Summer Reading Challenge, where three quarters of a million children get help avoiding the ‘reading dip’ over the summer holidays by getting excited about reading in libraries, is so important
Bridging the digital divide
While government services are increasingly delivered digitally 11 per cent of the population have never used the internet and over 12 million adults do not have the required level of digital skills. Through internet access in all libraries, including WiFi, libraries provide the access that so many in the population still lack. They also help people develop the necessary skills and motivation to get online and get the most from it.
About National Libraries Day
On Saturday 6th February hundreds of events will take place in libraries across the UK. Library staff and event organisers can add their events to a map and download free materials including a PR guide, logo and ideas for activities. We want as many people as possible to join in the conversation and share why libraries matter using the hashtag #LibrariesDay
So this Saturday show some love for your library and use it, love it join it.
Mark Taylor is Director of External Relations, CILIP: the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals