Libraries in a Digital Age
On Friday 12th October, Prof. Sir Deian Hopkin gave the 2012 Bevan Foundation annual lecture at the South Wales Miners’ Library in Swansea. Deian Hopkin is President of the National Library of Wales and after more than 40 year experience working in Higher Education has a long standing association with libraries.
At a time when government cuts are threatening the future of libraries all over the U.K. it seems timely to reflect on their future particularly as we move into an increasingly digital age. Deian Hopkin reminded attendees at the lecture that libraries have their origins in educating the poor who were unable to afford books. Today it is people on low incomes who are excluded from digital resources as only 41% of people in lower socio economic groups have access to the internet. Prof. Sir Hopkin proposed that rather than being a reason for closing libraries, the digital age is a very powerful reason for keeping them open.
However Deian Hopkin was keen to remind us that this does not mean that libraries are O.K. as they are. Outdated PCs that restrict the use of certain sites, prohibit memory sticks and can only be used for 30 minutes at a time are completely inadequate, especially as the focus shifts to mobile devices like phones and tablets. Prof Sir Hopkin suggested that to combat this, libraries need to reinvent themselves as “idea shops” that should be integral to the community. While it’s easy to see how this can be done in cities, e.g. in partnership with developers, he acknowledged it was much more challenging in less populated places.
Already, there are some innovative ideas in Wales, such as the health library being set up in a GP’s surgery in Cardiff and “books on prescription” being offered in some practices. There’s much more could be done, but it needs a sense of priority and urgency.
Deian Hopkin concluded that libraries have a vital role to play now and in the future. Critically, he saw libraries’ role being improving the education of everyone, and particularly people from disadvantaged groups.
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