Government-commissioned report calls for free Wi-Fi - and toilets
Every library in the country should be on a single digital network to rescue them from the brink of disaster, a report to the government says.
They must also introduce free Wi-Fi - with "coffee, sofas and toilets" - which one third currently lack, a statistic described as "astonishing" by the study's author.
And the next government must deliver a boost to e-loans with a commitment to change copyright law to include them within the Public Lending Right.
The recommendations come in the Independent Library Report for England, billed as the last chance to halt an alarming decline which has seen 324 libraries close since 2011.
Author William Sieghart said: "We're at a critical moment for the libraries and if we're not careful we could lose so many. I, and a lot of people, think it would be an absolute disaster."
The government-commissioned report calls for:
- Funding for local authorities to introduce Wi-Fi, computer facilities and workforce training into all public libraries in England.
- The creation of a national digital library network, with a national library card and catalogue.
- A library taskforce, led by councils, in partnership with other interested parties to implement the recommendations and "reinvigorate" the public library.
- Changes in European and UK copyright law to enable the Public Lending Right to include remote e-loans in the next legislative term.
- More community involvement in the management of libraries "through a variety of models".
The authors - who visited "large numbers of libraries" over a seven-month period - acknowledged there have been "far too many library reviews in recent years which have come to nothing".
But they stressed the continued vital role for libraries to underpin every community, "from babies to old age, offering support, help, education, and encouraging a love of reading".
The report concludes: "Whether you wish to apply for a job, or seek housing benefit, or understand your pension rights or the health solutions available to you, or learn to read, the library can assist."
Yet, Sieghart pointed to the "astonishing" statistic that a third of libraries do not have WiFi, saying: "So they're slated for closure while everyone's in the Costa opposite, where there's a loo, hot drinks and internet access."
Wi-Fi could deliver the creation of a national digital network, which would enable existing stock to be "better sourced, shared and curated on a wider basis".
The report concludes: "It could allow libraries to build stronger links with The National Archives, the British Library, universities and other specialist libraries.
"It could also help to join up libraries across the globe to share information and new practices. This will give the public library service wider access to a greater wealth of material and allow them to connect with the wider world."
Pictured: Libray Card | HAAP Media Ltd. ("freeimages")