NLD13 Blog: The Library of the Future

By Aaron Hussey,

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Brian Gambles is the Director for the Library of Birmingham, a £188.8 million public library opening in September 2013. Being developed by Birmingham City Council, the new library in Birmingham’s Centenary Square will be physically connected to the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. It will consist of 10 levels, with 9 above ground and a lower ground floor.

The Library of the Future

I think National Libraries Day offers great opportunities to get people talking about libraries, encourage people to visit their local library and think about how libraries will change in the coming years.

All too often media coverage of libraries concentrates on cuts and closures, leaving little space for the vital debate about the future role of libraries in a changing society.  Jessop’s, HMV, Comet, Blockbuster – the news recently has been full of failed business models. Many, myself included, will mourn the passing of HMV in particular. But sentiment alone is not, and was not, enough. We cannot assume a secure future for the public library service. Of course recent public resistance to library closures is hugely reassuring, and demonstrates that people really care about public libraries. But we need robust new business models too. How libraries change and evolve in the future is critical. Libraries will continue to play a crucial role in their communities, offer services that people couldn’t access anywhere else, and adapt to the digital age. Libraries are inspiring and engaging places, where people can get help and advice, learn new skills, meet new people and, of course, borrow books.

In the future, the digital dimension of libraries will become increasingly important – libraries must deliver an integrated physical and digital offer. For me, the shift from a transactional service focussed on products – books and information – to one which emphasises the joy of learning – the process – and the importance of knowledge and personal development – the outcome – is the key. Learning of course derives from many sources and many media, offering different forms of engagement with ideas. Books are historically one of the greatest means of capturing and communicating ideas, but they are not the only means. It’s important to remember that people don’t just learn through reading, they learn through experience, events, exploration and discovery, and that is what a library should offer.

So libraries must be much more than just places to access printed material. As Project Director for the Library of Birmingham, I’ve had the privilege of overseeing the development of a £188.8 million public library project.  But this has never just been about a big budget and a big building. Service transformation has been at the heart of the project. I hope we can offer a great example of the way libraries can and must change and adapt, and the ways that libraries can develop partnerships with other organisations. We’re working with partners and the community more and more to ‘co-produce’ services, in order to offer an amazing experience to visitors. When the Library of Birmingham opens to the public on 3 September 2013, it will be a real cultural landmark in the city, and will have something to offer someone from every age and every walk of life.

National Libraries Day also offers a chance to acknowledge the hard work of library staff. I’m constantly impressed with the dedication of our team of library services staff and archive specialists who are currently undertaking the final preparations for the enormous task of moving millions of books, archive and photographic items from Birmingham Central Library to the new Library of Birmingham, and preparing for new ways of working. We expect 10,000 visitors every day to enjoy the many benefits and delights that a modern library can offer.

Working with colleagues to deliver the Library of Birmingham has been truly an inspirational experience; we look forward to supporting National Libraries Day for many years to come!