Public's wishes revealed

Monday 22 November 2010Sunita Sharma+44 (0)207 273 8299,

Ipsos Mori research opens the book on public's wishes for libraries' future

Public libraries really do hold a special place in the nation's heart, according to a major new research study published today by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA).

And while books remain at the core of the public's expectation for the service, there is clear demand for customer-friendly features such as online book lending, children's facilities, adult classes, helpful staff, convenient opening hours – and a good cup of coffee.

The research, carried out by Shared Intelligence and Ipsos MORI, provides an up to date picture of what the public wants from library services, and provides a timely pointer to how councils, faced with difficult financial choices, should shape the service for the future.

Overall, the research shows the English public widely value public libraries as a force for good and one that should be provided free. A significant proportion (74 per cent) of current users surveyed described libraries as "essential" or "very important" in their lives. Fifty-nine per cent of non users also think libraries play an "important" or "essential" role in the community. But it also suggests that the notion of library users and non-users is an artificial divide and that instead that people's reliance on libraries tends to vary as their life circumstances change, for example through taking up study, becoming unemployed, having children or retiring.

MLA Chair Sir Andrew Motion said: "As councils grapple with difficult decisions about where to allocate shrinking funds, this timely research highlights the value attached to library services, even unselfishly among people who are not current users. We all appear to recognise that as individuals there are times we need libraries and times when we might not, but as one community, we benefit from them all the time."

Books are still the main reason why most people use libraries but the research highlights that motivations for library use among current users are wide ranging: 76 per cent use libraries for their love of reading; 44 per cent for study; 17 per cent to find local information; and, 14 per cent view the library as somewhere to take their children.

The study highlights the increasing competition that libraries are now facing from the convenience of bookshops and online stores – one in four ‘lapsed' or non-users cite this as their main reason for not using public libraries today. Research also found that around 10 per cent of people who are not current library users simply "don't like reading". Book choice, good customer service, staff expertise and convenience are seen as key to user satisfaction.

Both users and non-users often expressed concern about books being "squeezed out" for other services and although they accepted greater automation, they do not think this should be at the expense of maintaining a knowledgeable and helpful staff base.

Roy Clare, MLA chief executive, said: "This study helps point to where the library service should be heading at a critical moment as costs need to be cut. It suggests that it is better to plan for the longer tem to provide a convenient modern service, with comprehensive book stock, digital access, helpful staff and a range of activities, than to maintain the costs of less-welcoming buildings with steadily reducing opening hours and declining stock.

"What also comes across strongly is the need for the service to flexible and sophisticated for different user needs, for example coffee shops would be a welcome addition for many, but not all. Many people expect now to be able to use services online without visiting a building, while others value and trust the convenience and safety of locally accessible public space. This points to councils providing a mixed-model approach, that combines online improvements with different sizes and types of buildings, joined up with other public services. Demand also varies from locality to locality, so local surveys and consultation would be very useful in helping councils shape their services to reflect local factors, such as the needs of rural communities and those with higher proportions of families or other groups who rely more on library services."

The top five changes that people say would encourage them to use libraries more are:

Current users: Coffee shop on site (31%); Longer opening hours (29%); Children's activities (28%); Range/quality of books (27%); Being able to reserve or renew books online (19%)

Lapsed users: Coffee shop on site (35%); Longer opening hours (27%); Children's activities (26%); Improving the IT offer (20%); Better information on what libraries offer (19%)

Non-users: Coffee shop on site (30%); Children's activities (26%); Improving the IT offer (18%); Specialist services (18%); Classes for adults (15%)

Source: Ipsos MORI. Respondents were read a list of options and asked to say which two or three would most encourage them to make more use of libraries

Notes to Editors

1. 'What do the public want from libraries?' report and related reports on the MLA Research website.

2. The research was undertaken from late July to early November, 2010, by Shared Intelligence and Ipsos MORI, on behalf of the MLA. The purpose of this study was to provide up-to-date research into public attitudes about library usage and non-usage, to complement and build upon existing research and data, such as the Taking Part survey. The research and analysis concentrated on adult users of libraries. In doing this, the project focused on the following key themes:

  • Understanding who currently does and does not use libraries
  • Motivations for library use and non-use amongst different groups
  • User experience of, and satisfaction with, library services
  • Perceptions of the value of libraries
  • Public understanding and awareness of the library service offer

3. The project had three phases: synthesising existing research evidence through a literature and data review, and generating significant new qualitative and quantitative data through focus groups and a national telephone survey, the latter carried out by Ipsos MORI.

4. The qualitative data is based on 12 focus groups conducted across England with a cross section of adults and library user types between 26 August and 7 September 2010. The quantitative phase involved a telephone survey of 1,102 people aged 18+ in England. Interviews were conducted between 4 and 10 October 2010. Data are weighted by gender, age, work status and Government Office Region to the profile of the adult population of England.

5. Libraries are playing a key role in Race Online – the campaign to help the nine million adults who have never used the internet to get online.

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  • the future libraries programme

    LGA Group and MLA will work together to support councils, especially where councils want to work together in partnership; by introducing and brokering councils to work together and help them to establish new delivery mechanisms to build economies of scale and sustainable critical mass. The LGA group and MLA would also aim to engage the library professional bodies in this work.


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