The UK’s public libraries have been facing major difficulties within the past few years as the government have been indecisive and delayed plans on how to spend millions of pounds for funding a nationwide library website.
The website was initially called the “Single Digital Presence” (SDP) but was later renamed LibraryOn. LibraryOn is one website that was made to act as a hub for all public libraries on one website, and allow the public to access collections across the country, according to reports from The Guardian.
Campaigners this past weekend, however, have criticized the government and the British Library and Arts Council England (ACE) over the lack of development of LibraryOn, and many are beginning to lose their patience.
On the government’s and ACE’s end, the delays in development are due to the fact that in England alone, there are only 150 library authorities that each have their own independent technology and management systems. The LibraryOn plan has been in the works for the past 10 years, and while government funds have been allocated to ACE and the British Library, little action has been done.
The libraries campaigner, Tim Coates, told the Observer that these failures by the government are disheartening and disappointing.
“We’re now 10 years later and – after several reviews and studies and about £6m – they have singularly failed even to decide what it is they ought to do.”
“Their obsession with consultation with ‘the sector’ has meant they have failed to grasp what people want and will use – which, simply, is easy access to the extensive library collections across the country. It should be like the website for John Lewis – that, wherever you are, it doesn’t depend on their individual shops,” Coates stated.
The plan for a national digital resource for the UK’s libraries was initially introduced in recommendations in William Sieghart’s 2014 Independent Report for England, which was commissioned by the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS).
The Guardian also quoted an eminent arts figure who chose to remain anonymous:
“It’s appalling. The government’s done nothing since that report. Libraries have been left behind in the 1970s. The digital revolution hasn’t really impacted them. They are stuck behind their own local authority IT system. The point of the digital presence would be to empower them.”
“We look at the way other nations are investing in their children and their futures through libraries and wonder what the hell we’re doing,” said Nick Poole, the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.
Poole also explained that within the past 10 years, 15% of libraries have closed, and another 15% are dependent on volunteers to keep them up and running.
He went on to say that the need for a digital presence for the UK’s library system has been present since the rise of computers, but the delays in development are also due to fears that more libraries will close.
“We want to see really strong face-to-face libraries supported and extended by a really strong digital scheme,” he added.
LibraryOn has received around £3.8 million in funding since 2018, which is when the British Library took over management of the project.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.