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Friday, 19 May, 2000, 09:34 GMT 10:34 UK
Is there a future for public libraries?

As British public libraries celebrate their 150th birthday, Culture Secretary Chris Smith is announcing new nationwide standards to ensure minimum opening times and spending on more books.

The library has been in decline for the last two decades and with the electronic revolution it seems people are far more likely to surf the net for entertainment than they are to pick up a book.

Can libraries shrug off their fuddy-duddy image and "shushing" librarians to reclaim their position in the community? What would you like to see there? When was the last time you got a book out on loan? Do you prefer to buy rather than borrow?

Library - "street-corner university" or out of date relic? Tell us what you think. HAVE YOUR SAY

We had a customer who spent (and paid for) over an hour's web time fruitlessly trying to find a piece of basic information which could be found in any encyclopaedia in 30 seconds

PA, UK
We had a customer who spent (and paid for) over an hour's web time fruitlessly trying to find a piece of basic information which could be found in any encyclopaedia in 30 seconds, and seemed quite affronted by the fact. Libraries should continue to provide a diverse range of media, from which the most appropriate for any given enquiry can be selected.
PA, UK

I spend an average of 10 hours a day on the Internet, but I don't see it as a substitute for libraries. Accessing the Web there is just one thing. Besides, a library is a place, with an atmosphere that varies from hour to hour, a place with people in it, warmth and comfort, sights and sounds. The Internet is not a substitute.
Simon Collery, England

Our family uses the local library regularly. The kids love being able to select and borrow items and we read lots of books we certainly would never buy. The internet may replace the reference sections of a library for many better off people with computer access, but they are an essential resource for us all, especially those on low income. They are also a valuable community focus in small towns or villages. We would struggle to keep up with our family's appetite for reading without the library.
Vince Summers, Scotland



Perhaps libraries need a good advertising campaign

Annie Jay, UK
Perhaps libraries need a good advertising campaign. When I recently suggested to a friend that he could access the internet at his local library, I got the impression that he had forgotten that libraries exist.
Annie Jay, UK

The libraries in England have been run-down for many years. Successive governments have used the old British Rail method of closure by stealth. Make sure that the libraries are open in an irregular pattern that makes it difficult for many people to use them. You can then make the excuse that nobody is using them and cut the budgets. This means fewer new books which also means that the standard of the remaining books will fall as they have to be retained for longer periods.
Ian Thomas, England

I am a public librarian and I am extremely proud of the fact. A major part of my current role is improving access to library services for people who are older or have disabilities, but I also spent a number of years working with children & schools. The range of users of libraries is a huge strength. Free access to libraries for recreation and information is vital in my part of the UK.
Kay Winter, UK

I work in a community college library, and am responsible for collection development in the Computer Studies area. The computer studies students are our highest users for print materials. Libraries are still relevant; in fact, they may be more relevant than ever as a place the public can go for information that is reliable, current and accessible to all.
Tracy MacMaster, Canada

The real reason that people who think libraries are boring still cling to such an outmoded idea is that they are stupid enough to believe the negative images that journalists and media types, being too lazy to go to a library and look up the true facts, constantly broadcast!
Jane, Somerset



Libraries are well-organised and quiet, they have the special atmosphere. There is no place in the world like a library.

Andrej, Russia
Computers developed rapidly, but that doesn't mean that other means of storing knowledge are outdated. There has to be an alternative to computers, and books remain as one. After a day of work with computers I enjoy reading a book in bed before going to sleep. Public libraries have numerous advantages. I always go to a library to look for a book I need (particularly for research, when I don't need to keep it) rather than buy it; if it is not found, only then I'd look for it in a (online) bookstore. I have to rationalise my spending. Libraries are well-organised and quiet, they have the special atmosphere. There is no place in the world like a library.
Andrej, Russia

No, there is no future for libraries. Why? Because people don't want to read anymore. And, the only way to attract them to the library is to furnish the public the use of 'free' computers and access to the 'internet'. So, libraries as we know them are going to change in their function as they once were.
Dave Adams, USA

Neither. Within the foreseeable future paper copies of any original piece of physical paper information will disappear. I know it sounds gross but is will not only improve accessibility but also drastically improve the world's forest situation. Sorry librarians, If I were you I would start a career in electronic document management (EDM)
Han de Min, Netherlands (now UK)

Developed and modernised public libraries are essential elements of education, 'lifelong learning' and society. Incorporation of the internet and community services into libraries if done effectively would almost certainly give them back the role and status that they used to have and still deserve, if not as much, more. Libraries are also essential to integrating developments in communication and technology into society. Older generations for example would feel much more comfortable learning about new technology from libraries than from product manuals.
Benj'min Mossop, Britain



Libraries need to become more professional and customer focuse

Simon, England
I like books, not just reading them but also the smell, feel and look. If I want to read I prefer a page to a screen. However, the internet can be an invaluable research tool, and gives access to opinions otherwise unpublished. Times are changing. Soon everyone will have internet access, they will book holidays, look at travel guides, download music and print books. Libraries are on the way out.
Stewart Duffill, England

Libraries need to become more professional and customer focused. The staff in my local library are often scruffily dressed and appear to regard customers as an interruption to their personal phone calls. Also, if my local Blockbuster video store can stay open until 11 p.m. and have an out of hours drop off box, why can't my library offer these facilities?
Simon, England

I'm typing this message in my local library. I don't know what I would do without it. I reckon I must have about 200 of books on loan at the moment.
Iain Robertson, Scotland



If you want silence while you read, borrow the book and go home

Paul Charters, England
I don't see the library as just a place to read or borrow books, I also see it as a very good place to study. The school libraries are just full of irritable chatter even though there are "Please be quiet" signs. I got my A-levels round the corner and I think the public library is the only place that I can study properly.
Johnathan Reeves, London, UK

I am currently studying Library Science in the USA and also work in a library at my university. Libraries do have a place in the modern world. They will remain centres of knowledge. Like all businesses, they must adjust to the changing world, but in a society where knowledge is more abundant than ever, it is important to keep libraries as places where one can find dependable, reliable, and useful information of all types.
Daniel Dotson, USA

Electronic media are only one additional way of communication - nobody really ever expects people stop seeing each other just because there is something like the telephone, do they? The libraries of the future will enable everyone to access any medium which is used for human communication: be it books, videos, audio tapes or any other type.
Michael Etzold, UK

Personally, I love to read - but I hate sitting in libraries and only ever did so when I had a report or similar to write for school and needed to go back and forth between books. There are plenty of 'shushing' libraries around and to be honest I find it more annoying that there is no background noise. If you want silence while you read, borrow the book and go home.
Paul Charters, England

Public libraries are the lifeblood of many communities. We all have a moral responsibility to ourselves and future generations to ensure that they survive and thrive.
DM, Leeds, England



Why waste all that time and money finding and downloading a file, then printing it out if you know the library has a copy in an ideal format

Mike Fay, UK
Libraries have a lot of competition and it's not just junk TV. The internet is a massive library from home and channels like Discovery are a focus of learning and education. Libraries aren't bad, they're just not the knowledge monopoly they used to be.
Dan Peters, UK

I could not afford to keep my children supplied with sufficient bedtime story books if it were not for my local library. I would use it more, but it is shut in the evenings and has short opening hours on Saturdays. When are working parents supposed to take their children? If this country wants to promote literacy, we should invest in libraries and keep them open during hours people can visit them.
PM, UK

This would be a real shame. My two young children love having a local library - it even has a story time where local women come and read to pre-school children once a week. I'd personally like to see libraries equipped with the ability to lend the new e-books that are slowly coming to market. Libraries provide a great focal point for rural communities, and it would be a tragedy if any were to close.
Ian Hopgood, UK

How can people realise the true potential of public libraries when the government is unwilling to maintain, let alone develop, the present service? What sort of message does this give out the public? It tells us that public libraries are outdated and no longer relevant, when the opposite is true. The 'electronic revolution' should be taking place within the library, allowing access for all to an invaluable resource.
Katie Swann, UK

Why the assumption that people will be able to get onto the net for access all the time? For some the only place they can access the internet may well be - at their local library. Besides, what do people do when they want to read a whole lot of text they've downloaded? They print it onto paper. Why waste all that time and money finding and downloading a file, then printing it out if you know the library has a copy in an ideal format.
Mike Fay, UK

Yes Libraries are important. I want to work in the film industry in future, and this is one area where books are notoriously expensive to buy even when not totally up-to-date. Without the library, these out of print books simply wouldn't have been available for me to start learning the basics before I could afford to buy the books, some as much as 40. As for the building itself there's nothing wrong with having a non school-related area in a town where you can read and study in peace.
Kenneth Henry, UK

I think libraries will always exist for the simple reason that electronic media cannot fulfil the role that a book does; people will always love to read books in bed, in the garden, at the beach or to their children. Internet can never replace these types of life-long pleasures. Long live libraries!
Yvonne, UAE



Libraries are free for everyone and they give us knowledge to equip ourselves.

Selena, Hong Kong
Libraries are free for everyone and they give us knowledge to equip ourselves. Perhaps increased prosperity has meant that people would rather buy their books from the Internet or bookstores. Personally I think public libraries are an invaluable source of information, besides the Internet. Besides, they are more accurate and professional, sometimes.
Selena, Hong Kong

Libraries will never be out of date as long as their directors keep them up with what the public wants.
Curtis Smith, Taiwan

My local public library is great! We can reserve books from home via the internet. There is a variety of programs for children to encourage them to read more, and the Friends of the Library club is flourishing. It's a pleasure to visit the library, as the staff are friendly and there are plenty of comfortable chairs and desks available. The Internet is such a solitary pursuit - nothing will ever replace actually going out and meeting people!
Jean Leahy, Australia



In many universities the library is the most essential service to aid learning and research.

Mark Lisle, Germany
Public libraries maybe doomed due to the of perceived customers which I have doubts about - but in many universities the library is the most essential service to aid learning and research. Ok you don't get pulp novels, but in terms of education libraries are better than trawling through pages of adverts and other garbage to find essential information relating to the law , careers, technical information and other such useful bits of information. Very often Libraries are out of date and I believe that libraries should concentrate on providing useful information rather than entertainment - then people will go there instead of surfing the tedious net.
Mark Lisle, Germany

Books have the virtue of being tested. If you pick a text off the shelf you can be confident that no one would have published the thing if it was rubbish. If you look for information on the internet, especially scientific papers, you end up with endless, untrusted papers written by any old quack with a computer.
Stephen Egli, UK

I grew up surrounded by books, I live surrounded by books, and I love to read to children. A computer will never replace the tactile feel of a substantial cover and fresh pages. Our librarians are incredible resources for research, writing, etc. Yet up to date media/computer equipment is expensive and the library staff seems to constantly be learning new technology so they can teach us! And all of us still love a great new book.
Kay Sweeney, USA



I would love to make more use of the local public library, but the hours are hopeless and too much of what they offer depends on asking the librarians for help

Caroline, Wales
Public libraries in the UK are a mess because they are badly managed, under-funded and still pursuing an unattainable goal of being all things to everybody. They are also structured in an antediluvian way, totally inappropriate for the internet age.
Mark Lardner, UK

I would love to make more use of the local public library, but the hours are hopeless and too much of what they offer depends on asking the librarians for help. The ordering of books from other libraries should be made accessible to ordinary users.
Caroline, Wales

As a former public librarian, I am concerned at the decline in quality in many public libraries. It is alas too late, to reverse the damage by political and commercial interests to our once fine library system. Far too many books of value have been simply thrown away, and that, coupled with the narrowing of subject coverage, as pressure to provide 'issue statistics' at the expense of all, and the reduction in funding, has resulted in a paucity of both depth and breadth of book provision which would appall those who established our public libraries. Take libraries out of politics, local and national, and set higher standards. We owe it to ourselves, and our children for their future.
Roger Dixon, UK



Books are great for some things and computers for others - they compliment each other perfectly in the knowledge economy

Annabel Colley, Chair, Association of UK Media Librarians, UK
Libraries have traditionally been centres of information. Yet, increasing numbers of children will grow up using the computer to "read". The "haves" in this future society will disdain the "have nots".
Alan Henderson, Australia

The internet does not replace traditional libraries. One of the problems is the still very primitive social interaction of the internet: issues of copyright, intellectual property, re-publishing and getting paid for publishing content are not technically solved. With the internet you enter a simplistic world of piracy, broken links and little content.
John Kompa, Singapore

When was the last time you went into a public library and saw rows of dusty books and "shushing" librarians?! Sure, a few exist like this, but many more of these stereotypes exist in peoples heads than in real life.The national grid for learning, open learning areas (where public library users collect email, surf the web, learn how to use software packages. - all these are increasingly available at public libraries. Books are great for some things and computers for others - they compliment each other perfectly in the knowledge economy.
Annabel Colley, Chair, Association of UK Media Librarians, UK



Books are still better than the current crop of pictures and TV shows that we are inflicted with

Philip Grebner, USA
As I am in the habit of only reading a book once, I would donate it to the local branch of the library after reading it. I still do that when I find one that I just can't wait to appear on the library shelves.
The happy thing about all this is that I'm not the only one who does this. As a result, my local branch has a full collection of the latest fiction and non fiction around.
Books are still better than the current crop of pictures and TV shows that we are inflicted with. Now the internet is something else entirely.
Philip Grebner, USA

I think libraries for first time have got the opportunity to change into centres of information. If librarians make use of this advantage, libraries could change completely their roles. They could lead people to get the appropriate information.
Goudava Euphrosyne, Greece

The net is perhaps beginning to undermine the role of the library as a source for certain types of knowledge, but a printed book is still the best medium over the net for practical reasons.
Books are portable, lightweight, compact, easy on the eye, do not contain advertising, and perhaps most importantly are free of charge from the library.
Some books and printed material also offer a level of graphical resolution and scale that ordinary computers cannot deal with, e.g. maps.
A library still serves a purpose as being a place where local cultural interests are represented.
Eddie Talbot, UK



This is the era of the written word, the challenge is to ensure that all have good access to it

Malcolm McCandless, Scotland
Public libraries allowed ordinary people access to a whole range of books they couldn't otherwise afford. It encouraged reading and learning in the wider community. The one good aspect of the Web is that it has allowed people to buy books much more cheaply than they would have with traditional book retailers. This is the era of the written word, the challenge is to ensure that all have good access to it.
Malcolm McCandless, Scotland



Libraries provide free space in a world where learning is now a marketable commodity

John Cullen, Ireland
We are coming to terms with the fact that the electronic revolution means that the Internet provides us with a mix of the useless and the saleable. Libraries provide free space in a world where learning is now a marketable commodity. The current edition of American Libraries quotes John O'Farrell writing on the Internet revolution:
'Imagine if a new craze suddenly came over from America called "the Library". Inside were these things called "books" about everything.... And you could take these texts out of the library for free because these 'book' things were even more portable than a laptop... We would think it was the most fantastic development in the world.'
John Cullen, Ireland



Over the last twenty years, public libraries have been under constant threat of cuts and reducing resources

David Sharpe, England
Having been involved in a project for the past 6 months I was researching a lot of information on the net. However, I also decided to use the library as I thought it would have even more information. My partner (who owns an internet company) told me I would be wasting my time and to continue using the net for my research. I didn't listen to him and went to my city library for the first time in years and was shocked at the state of it. There were hardly any books on the information I needed (animal behaviour is hardly a small subject). There were no modern books. The books I did find were old, falling apart, dirty and smelly! The library was full of strange people and the attitude of the librarians was very unhelpful and impolite. In future I will continue to do my research on the net and through buying books from bookstores.
C. Smith, UK

Where would we be without libraries? I for one grew up with a regular weekly trip to the library with my parents to salve a young boys need for information in all its forms. The gradual running down of libraries and the cutting of their book buying power has been a crime of the highest order. When it comes to the idea of a resurgent education policy and I hope Labour keep their promises on this one. I now frequently buy books as I like to reread and have the collection but this all stemmed from libraries and their ability to fire a young persons mind with more interest than television ever can on its own.
William Goodey, England

I feel that the public libraries will still be there despite the traumatic erosion of its catchment population by the electronic media. Though the electronic media has a lot of variety, some people still prefer 'hard copy' books. .
Charles, Kuwait

Over the last twenty years, public libraries have been under constant threat of cuts and reducing resources. In most local authority budgets, public libraries receive 2% or less of the total. This is what has caused apparent declines in demand, not an actual reduction in local needs for the services they offer. Despite lack of resources, many public libraries have started to respond to local demand by introducing new services or methods. For example, in many libraries there is now free access to the internet for any library user. You need to get away from uninformed stereotypical images and look at functions and services. Public libraries are about giving every member of their local community access to information.
David Sharpe, England



I use both the internet and books as a matter of routine but I could not function without books

Mark Cresswell, UK
For the many people who do not own a computer, libraries are an obvious choice to gain internet access. At my local library I can also rent videos and CD's at well below high street prices. When it comes to literature a good book will always be preferable to the computer screen. I also find the library good for planning the annual holidays as they have a good travel guide and language section. Libraries certainly have a future and should be properly funded to ensure the economically poorer sections of society are not socially excluded.
JN, UK

I think there is still a place for the public library. It should be a valuable source of reference as well as providing recreational reading matter but the key thing is to move with the times, provide cheap and plentiful web access and e-mail for all, pulling down some of the barriers that are starting to form in E society, between those on and off line.
Ron, UK

I use both the internet and books as a matter of routine but I could not function without books. To many that are not computer literate, books are a vital source of inspiration, knowledge and enjoyment. Libraries are as much an integral part of our society as pubs, parks and ancient landmarks. The degree to which a country can call itself "civilised" is dependent upon the importance it places on learning and freedom of speech. I believe that books alone can provide the basic ingredients of civilisation, whilst the electronic media is a mere specialism which lacks the personal warmth and accessibility of the printed word.
Mark Cresswell, UK

Why is there a need to 'shrug off.. shushing librarians'? Don't you need quiet to read? The big problem in New York is that public libraries are too often full of noisy kids whose parents send them there to hang out after school finishes. In fancier neighbourhoods, small kids are brought there by the maids/babysitters who, too often, leave them to play (and make noise). We need to remember what a library is for -- while it may now have the extra service of online resource centre (NYPL branches all have internet access for the users), it's not a day-care centre. Librarians seem unable to control the noisy kids and unwilling to throw them out.
Wu Jarass, USA



Computers are no substitute for books. Close libraries and close opportunity

Avi Newman, Mexico
As a qualified librarian, & an avid book reader, I enjoy borrowing books from my local library. I just love borrowing murder mysteries & legal thrillers from the library! I must say that the library has kept in touch with the times by introducing videos & the use of the Internet (free access).
Nicky Parsons, UK

Last year in Camden, North London, after a campaign lasting many months, 12 Labour councillors finally had the courage to break from the Labour whip to back a Conservative motion to keep Camden's libraries open. This was Labour's first defeat in Camden since they seized power in 1971 and shows how much support the library network has in my local area.
Andrew Mennear, England

Libraries face a huge problem - simply providing books won't ensure their survival, but providing their customers with the latest in technology, such as videos, dvds and internet access can't be achieved without major investment from the government. It will be a sad day for Britain and an even sadder day for the future of the UK's young people the day that the libraries start to close.
Paul Harris, UK

Computers are no substitute for books. Close libraries and close opportunity. Most Latin American countries have virtually no libraries. Want to live like them, in poverty and ignorance? Abandon your libraries and slip back into the Middle Ages.
Avi Newman, Mexico


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16 May 00 | UK
Libraries: Read not dead
19 Feb 99 | UK Politics
Smith warns: Don't close libraries
28 Jan 00 | Scotland
Warning over libraries' fate
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