UK public libraries to become a ‘single digital presence’?

The process of digitisation is becoming an increasingly common presence in both private and public sector organisations.

The British Library is to lead an 18-month scoping project to establish the demand for, and possible shape of, a ‘single digital presence’ for UK public libraries.

Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, said: “As part of our Living Knowledge strategy to 2023, the British Library has in recent years renewed its focus on public libraries, and our engagement with public libraries and city libraries across the UK has given us a sense of the excellent work they’re already doing but also the potential for future growth, given the right vision. We are excited to be leading this scoping work for a single digital presence and I look forward to working with stakeholders from across the sector – and across the UK – to develop a full understanding of exactly what might be possible.”

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Funded by Arts Council England and the Carnegie UK Trust, the project will investigate user expectations and demand for what a national online platform for public libraries might deliver, and will explore the network of stakeholder groups and organisations best placed to make it a reality.

Brian Ashley, Director, Libraries for Arts Council England, said: “Inhabiting the mobile, digital space, complementing and energising the existing library offer, is central to the future strength and relevance of libraries. As the development agency for libraries, the Arts Council is very excited by the prospect of it becoming a reality. Developing it will be a challenge but we believe that success is more likely because of our partnership with the Carnegie UK Trust and the British Library. The British Library is uniquely placed to deliver this project across the country and we appreciate this significant commitment to libraries. I’m looking forward to seeing how together we can deliver this for the benefit of the people and communities that use libraries.”

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The scoping project will build on the work of the Single Digital Libraries Presence Steering Group, which has developed a range of early ideas on a universal online platform for the UK’s public libraries, and a report on a Single Digital Presence by Bibliocommons.

The development of a single digital presence of this kind was one of the key recommendations of William Sieghart’s 2014 Independent Library Report for England.

The British Library-led project will undertake market analysis, stakeholder interviews, workshops and other research, leading to a draft set of options and emerging findings within the first year as well as recommendations on how this might be taken forward.

It will involve key stakeholders from across the home nations, assessing the potential and scope for a UK-wide platform providing access to local collections and services.

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Martyn Evans, Chief Executive of the Carnegie UK Trust, said: “I am delighted that the British Library has committed to lead this programme towards developing a single digital presence for libraries. The British Library has the credibility, expertise and stature to tackle this complex project. It can bring stakeholders from across the four UK jurisdictions, examining models for success and exploring how an on-line platform can support the delivery of high quality library services in the 21st century. I am looking forward to supporting them, and our partners at Arts Council England, to advance this vital work”.

The project is supported by £236,384 of funding from Arts Council England and £30,000 from Carnegie UK Trust. Emerging findings from the project will be shared in autumn 2018, with the final report published in 2019.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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