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Monday, 20 October 2014

Physical and Other Kinds of Book Loans

A comment on this post asks about why I interested in loans outside physical libraries.  The primary reason is that a lot of the misunderstanding of Brent's Libraries Transformation Project came from the idea that cutting the number of libraries must mean a reduction in usage.  In fact, the opposite turned out to be the case. 

I think key to understanding why this is, is understanding that (1) at least in an urban authority like Brent, travelling to different libraries is actually quite easy (2) library activities such as book loans have become divorced (at least to some extent from actually physically visiting the libraries.

This is obvious when you consider a lot of online actitivities.  If you have a Brent library card you can now look books up in a catalogue, read periodicals, communicate with other library uers and boorrow ebooks without actually setting foot in a library.

However, my post centred on book loans, so lets look at those specifically.

Ebooks, a small but fast growing sector (94% in the last half year) can be totally divorced from a physical visit to a library, as the commentator recognises.

Home Library services were an area we chose to prioritise during the Transformation.  That was a choice based on protecting vulnerable people.  There is no statutory duty to do that. Bristol has been reported as considering closing that service altogether.  Brent went the opposite way, and has massively increased usage.  This is not only not linked to having physical libraries, but pushing resources towards maintaining buildings inevitably means cuts elsewhere, and cuts to the home library service would be one politically easier way to achieve them. 

Outreach Services: I have seen some very snooty comments about outreach services as no more than a "book swop".  In fact, they can be a very valued part of the service.  I think of Brent examples such as at Preston primary school, St Raphael's Childrens Centre or the outreach activities at Kilburn Library during its refurbishment.  Again, Brent chose to emphasise this service and saw usage shoot up as a consequence.  This was a choice that would probably not have happened had Brent chosen to pour its resources into buildings.

Online Renewals:  Online renewals I would accept have a relation to physical loans, although I think it is a fairly loose one.  Nonetheless, making online renewals as easy as possible is important to making book lending easier for the users, which I think should be a central aim for all services.

Phone Renewals: Again these are loosely related to physical loans from buildings, although I suspect they often cannibalise online renewals to some extent.

My overall point is that concentrating on buildings rather than services is the wrong set of priorities.  It is, however, the line that most authorities are taking as they look for budget cuts.

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