British Library, the Carnegie UK Trust and Arts Council England to consider whether an “interactive and engaging platform” for all UK libraries is possible
The British Library has kicked off an 18-month project to study whether all libraries in Britain should be served by a single website.
A recent report commissioned by the British Library, the Carnegie UK Trust and Arts Council England found that while some libraries had worked to bring in innovative digital platforms in recent years, the level of digital service generally offered by libraries “struggles to meet user expectations and public awareness of libraries’ online offer is poor”.
“Meanwhile, the IT expenditure in the majority of libraries has remained steady or declined in recent years and public libraries’ unique connection between the physical and the digital has yet to be fully realised,” it added.
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Arts Council England and the Carnegie UK Trust are now funding an-in depth project, to be led by the British Library, which will look into the feasibility of creating a single, online point of contact for public libraries right across the UK.
According to the group, the project will involve “market analysis, stakeholder interviews, workshops and other research” and the team has said it will lay out draft options and emerging findings within its first year.
The new project is not the first time that a unified platform for the UK’s libraries has been floated.
A 2014 report for central government, led by publisher William Sieghart, made the provision of a national digital network one of its central recommendations, arguing that such a move could allow Britain’s disparate libraries “to be able to communicate with each other more effectively and to promote their services in a more unified way”.
“Creating a digital network for libraries could bring about a socially inclusive 21st century model that is fit for purpose,” Sieghart said. “A digital network can help reinvigorate the library offer, reach new customers, and increase the visibility of libraries in the community at large.”
Writing in the latest joint report, Carnegie UK Trust chief executive Martyn Evans acknowledged that developing a single digital presence for libraries “will be a challenge”, and said there was no single international example that could be imported wholesale to Britain.
“Whilst there are some excellent examples, no one has yet cracked the creation of an interactive and engaging platform,” he said. “Furthermore, it is clear that success is most likely if the needs of the user and public value are placed at the centre of any initiative.
Evans added: “Another challenge lies in the time and cost involved in developing a platform. Yet nestled in heart of these challenges lies the opportunity: the opportunity to create an internationally leading platform based on user need and with a clear and realistic plan for long-term maintenance and ongoing development and support, and the opportunity to invest rather than subsidise.”
Although the British Library is headquartered in London, the team is meanwhile keen to stress that the study will not be England-centric, saying the work 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”.