‘What are Libraries for?’

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Last week I attended a very lively and engaging Library organised by Birmingham Salon and  CILIP West Midlands. The discussion focused on the future role of the library against a backdrop of the new Birmingham Library development and the current financial challenges. It was really well attended with about 80 people there from both library and non-library backgrounds in roughly equal measure.

This event was also my first experience at tweeting updates for @CILIPWM (#libdebate). Whilst I am a Tweeter – I thought it would be difficult to get my head around tweeting whilst trying to concentrate on what is being said. The experience disproved this – it was great – not only did it make me digest what was being said but I was also able to see what other people’s reactions were about the debate. It was great to see lots of people both at the event and elsewhere in the country engaging with the debate. Lots of questions were generated from the debate including the following:  Are Libraries still relevant? Are libraries more than just buildings? Can libraries work based within supermarkets or pubs? What role is there for books v’s new online resources? Should libraries be silent spaces or should they include spaces for collaboration and events? What do library users want from libraries in the 21st century?

Overall the event was a great success – and certainly made me think about my own use of public libraries and how libraries have changed over the years from going as a young child to pick out the latest ‘Topsy and Tim’ books through to  work in the Library on educational projects and then utilising the internet at the library before I had a computer. In recent years my use has tailed off – but I definitely intend to change this trend and revisit my local library soon. Libraries seem to have a tradition of reinventing themselves to maintain their relevance within society and no doubt this will continue. One question asked related to whether the library should be about silent spaces for people to muse over the books there or a community resource – I think the library can be both. Even in a time with increased access to e-books the role of books still has its place and the library is an essential local service. I believe books can co-exist beside technology, spaces for collaboration and community meetings.

I have written a more detailed account of the event for a guest posting in the CILIP WM blog. There are also lots of photographs from the event on CILIP WM’s Flickr pages.

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