Libraries Still Crucial in Internet Age

By Stihler, Catherine | The Scotsman, February 27, 2019 | Go to article overview

Libraries Still Crucial in Internet Age


Stihler, Catherine, The Scotsman


W ith councils across the UK facing major financial pressures, libraries are too often seen as an easy target for cuts.

It's estimated that more than 120 libraries closed their doors in England, Wales and Scotland in 2017. That figure is likely to have increased last year.

Thousands of jobs have also been lost, with libraries' existence more reliant on volunteers than ever before.

But closing down a library has to be one of the most shortsighted decisions that public officials can make, with serious consequences for the future of local communities.

There is a widespread misconception that the services offered are out-of-date - a relic of a bygone age before youngsters started carrying smartphones in their pockets with instant access to Wikipedia, and before they started downloading books on their Kindle.

But a recent study by the Carnegie UK Trust found that people aged 15-24 in England are the most likely age group to use libraries. And nearly half of people aged 25 to 34 still visit them, according to the study.

0A Today, the most successful libraries have remodelled themselves to become fit for the 21st century, and more can follow suit if they receive the right support and advice, and have the backing of governments and councils.

I am encouraged by the Scottish Government's support for adequate library services across Scotland.

Tomorrow, the tenth Edge conference held by Edinburgh City Libraries will be held in the capital, where library experts from across the globe will gather to share good practice and discuss future developments.

Everyone attending shares the same belief that libraries offer crucial support to help people help themselves - to support literacy, digital participation, learning, employability, health, culture and leisure.

As a former MEP who founded the European Parliament's All-Party Library group, I'm delighted to be attending this event in my new role as chief executive of Open Knowledge International.

As experts in opening up knowledge, we help governments, universities, and civil society organisations reach their full potential by providing them with skills and tools to publish, use, and understand data.

Part of our role involves delivering technology solutions which are particularly relevant for libraries.

One of our initiatives is called OpenGlam, a global network that works to open up content and data held by galleries, libraries, archives and museums.

All over the world, libraries are coming up with new ideas to make them relevant for the modern age.

Take virtual reality as an example, which is arguably the most important innovation since the smartphone. It not only provides a source of fun and entertainment but it has also become a platform to explore science, nature, history, geography and so much more.

You no longer have to pick up a book in a library to learn about the Himalayas, the Great Barrier Reef or the Grand Canyon - you can explore them in virtual reality.

You can learn by time travelling back to a prehistoric age or go forward into the yet undiscovered possibilities of the future. …

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