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Chapter One: Access to knowledge, imagination and learning Chapter Two: Listening to the people Chapter Three: Skills for the new librarian Chapter Four: Network infrastructure Chapter Five: Investment and income Chapter Six: Copyright and licensing issues Chapter Seven: Performance and evaluation Chapter Eight: Implementation - creating the momentum Chapter Nine: A summary of recommendations and costs Appendices

2 Listening
to the people


In setting out to develop information and communication technologies in libraries on a large and intensive scale, it is important that library users' needs and motivations are understood, and also their perceptions of IT in relation to current library services. It is also vital that we listen to people's views about our proposals to develop library services using the new technologies.This chapter therefore describes the findings of a small-scale qualitative research programme, conducted in June and July 1997, whose aims and methodology can be found in Appendix 2.

A range of experts was consulted to refine the vision of what libraries might offer, and research was conducted among six key library user groups, including mid-teens (aged fourteen/fifteen years in a deprived inner-city location), school-leavers, families with a general interest in the library, 'lifelong learners', and adults engaged in some form of part-time study to make a career change or return to work. Fieldwork was carried out in four different locations, selected to represent a range of library services: a small local library, a main central library, a library in a deprived inner-city area, and a rural library.

In general, people's starting position was full of goodwill towards the current service, even though there was dissatisfaction with cutbacks in opening hours and with spend on bookstocks. A principal concern was that the introduction of IT could be unrealistic in a regime of tight finance.

Research overview

The findings in this section are based on the research analysis which follows.
  1. The public library embodies the democratic principle of the public's right to information in whatever form. People are conscious that the use of IT is fundamental in today's society, and recognise that public libraries have a role to play in making it accessible to all - to level the playing-field and provide technology for those who cannot afford to buy it.

  2. With the introduction of IT, there is great potential to stimulate, educate and inform for both recreational and vocational purposes.

  3. The greatest value seems to be in the area of education in its widest sense. There is a tremendous opportunity for libraries to play a greater role in meeting the needs of schoolchildren and school-leavers and in supporting lifelong learning. More and more young people undertake project work. Significant numbers of people fall through the net. Where do the 3 million self-employed get their training?

    The public library could become the natural place for people to turn to for advice, support and practical training in IT and communication skills, and could potentially play a significant role in training and retraining.

  4. Bearing in mind the limited scope of this research, the most motivating applications overall were homework clubs, links to schools, the idea of the one-stop shop for school-leavers, the library as a training centre for information and communication skills, and advanced services.

    Although the idea of open learning in a comfortable self-paced way was appealing, people need first to acquire the basic computer skills to enable them to do this. Only a few realised the full potential in developing literacy skills.

    Other applications such as access to rare archives had more specific appeal, but those who responded favourably were very enthusiastic. It seemed that specialist collections receive little promotion beyond regional boundaries, and this would need to be addressed.

    The value to the community of the library as a local knowledge centre was understood and thought to be an essential service which could only improve with the benefits of IT. Suggested links to local government had limited appeal to the groups surveyed, but it would require a more substantial study to confirm this finding.

  5. The networking solution adopted for rural areas could be different and would require further investigation. Rural communities tend to have fewer resources available, so there is more incentive to use the new services - either remotely from home or from convenient village access points. Recreational reading is enormously significant, and facilities such as renewing books by remote access, making requests, and possibly having books sent to you would be a big improvement in the service.

  6. The convenience of opening hours needs to be addressed from the users' point of view. If the intention is to provide a service to maximise use and further recreational and vocational learning, the library needs to be open during evenings, weekends and lunch-times, so that all can benefit from the service.

  7. Networking should not be restricted to national boundaries: people realise that we are in a world information environment and that it is essential to be part of the global network, otherwise we will get left behind.

  8. The public library is an important focal point in the community. There is a feeling that its position has been eroded, that it does not currently present a compelling reason to go there and that it is lagging behind the times rather than moving ahead. Though there is a tremendous amount of goodwill for the public library service among users, there is a significant opportunity to revitalise libraries, stimulate greater usage, broaden the appeal, and make a big difference in people's lives.

  9. New technology and networked libraries are essential if libraries are to gain status in the new world of networked information, knowledge and learning. IT could be a big step forward in encouraging learning - making it seem more fun and motivating, especially to those who currently feel that libraries are not for them.

  10. People really value the quiet learning space provided by the library at the moment, and any development needs to be complementary to this. There were some indications from our research that new uses would add value to the library in an exciting way, but that they would require separate spaces. How the new technology should be integrated to maintain important library values will need to be taken into account and investigated further.

  11. The future of librarians will be to enable and facilitate. The overall purpose of the job will be essentially the same, but the skills needed will be different. Librarians will have to think about their role, management skills, delivering services and 'customer care', and this may require a cultural shift in attitude for some. More librarians have to come out from behind the desk and be more outward-going.

  12. Most people had a narrow view of the total range of services offered by public libraries. This was particularly true of people who accessed books and information from other sources. This indicates a need to use higher-profile marketing of the public library service, to show what's on offer and to encourage broader use and access for the widest possible range of people.

  13. Whether the service is free or could be charged for is an issue that will need further examination. Libraries already make charges for some things, and most people do accept this.

  14. When designing new services, librarians will need to understand in more detail how far people are prepared to travel for particular uses. In this study we found that specialised resources which are self-evidently more costly were not expected to be available in every local library.

  15. There will be some people who do not want IT to displace what they value in libraries and would rather have better bookstock and a more comfortable reading space. For these people it is especially important to preserve the library atmosphere and the large-scale presence of books, and to house any of the advanced services in a separate space.

  16. The experts we talked to who represented small businesses felt that libraries potentially present an opportunity to be at the heart of partnerships with the private sector. This area was outside the remit of this study, but is a very important one in terms of service packaging, marketing and financing, and will need thorough examination.

Main findings

Overall reaction to IT development in public libraries

The overall reaction was as follows:
  1. The development of IT in public libraries was regarded as essential if libraries are to play an integral role in the new world of networked information, knowledge and learning.

  2. Respondents were impressed by what the information technology network could potentially deliver, and a large majority reacted very favourably.

  3. The most enthusiastic were the better informed - aware of the Internet capabilities, and conscious of the fact that, if libraries did not go ahead with public library networking and be part of the global network, they would get left behind.

  4. The applications of networking libraries that aroused most enthusiasm tended to concern education and support for lifelong learning, while levelling the playing-field for those unlikely to be able to afford to buy the new technology themselves.

  5. People perceived the library as the natural place for self-learning and training in appropriate skills.

  6. The librarian was seen to have an important role to play in helping and coaching people in IT. The presence of the librarian was also necessary to maintain a 'human feel' - especially to encourage those people with 'techno-fear', worried about the 'coldness' and inaccessibility of IT.

  7. Access to the world's information bank was seen to be necessary but was not a primary driver. Most needs were already fulfilled by the local library bookstock and an occasional special request or visit to a main central library. A more tangible benefit was having immediate access to information when all relevant books were on loan.

  8. More advanced services, such as videoconferencing and virtual reality, were especially appealing to the young audiences, and were acceptable as long as the ideas were information- or communication-related. The possibility of videoconference links created broader interest.

  9. The people who did have possibilities of access from home were very receptive to the idea of using services remotely.

  10. Most people felt quite strongly that development should not be at the expense of the things that make a library special.

  11. A minority was slightly turned off by the concept of IT making greater inroads into peoples' lives generally. This minority tended to be older, enjoyed libraries the way they are, and simply wanted the future to invest in more bookstock, longer opening hours and a few more comfortable chairs. However, they did recognise the value of IT in libraries as an investment for the future of younger generations.

  12. In the rural user group, the women with the greatest interest in networked libraries were those who had children doing homework projects.

Key concepts

Meeting the needs of children

Specific educational benefits of IT were welcomed with considerable enthusiasm among both parents and children.

Homework clubs with IT facilities were thought to be a brilliant idea. The reasons given were:
  1. IT would motivate children and give them practise in essential computer skills and other new technology;

  2. the library network would also ensure access to a wide choice of relevant and interesting references for children's project work;

  3. the children would be less distracted in a library environment and be able to concentrate more;

  4. help and guidance would be on hand, if needed.

Links to schools were also felt to be a good idea - mostly because schools' resources were thought to be limited and such links would provide valuable support. Use for parent communication with the school was of interest only among a minority; it was generally felt that a direct link with schools would not be practical and could potentially take up valuable time of teaching staff already under pressure. However, mothers did feel it would be a good idea to have access to the national curriculum.

Women in the rural user group with children doing homework projects, showed great interest in networked libraries and were very enthusiastic about the idea of being able to remotely access information from home or at a convenient access point.

Meeting the needs of school-leavers

IT was perceived to be particularly beneficial to this age group. Not surprisingly, they were particularly motivated by the concept which presented

Easy and fast access to a complete up-to-the minute picture on

and at the same time be able to find out how to write a CV and practise for an interview on a CD-rom.

User suggestions:

'Real insight into courses and universities: town, campus, student life, etc.'

'Could catalogue people's opinions about the courses, and what the college is really like. That would be very useful.'

This age group especially welcomed the idea of an established base where you could learn and use new information technology, including more advanced services.

Remote access from home was mentioned by this group as a potential additional benefit, for those times when the library was closed or when there was no need to use any of the other services.

Supporting lifelong learning

People we talked to who were participating in any kind of lifelong learning already used the public library for that purpose. The library was regarded as a good place to go to pursue self-education with more personal goals, or leisure interests and hobbies. Primarily it provided a quiet study space and reference materials that people could use in their own time - provided the library was open. Longer opening hours were obviously a particular issue here.

The majority thought that IT skills were necessary in a world in which technology-based employment is growing, and some had already taken steps to acquire these skills through public libraries. Others showed enthusiasm at the possibility of acquiring these skills at the library.

The concept of open learning in a library environment was appealing to many, though a minority felt they would personally prefer to have the greater social interaction from attending a course. The greatest barrier for some would initially be that they would need to acquire basic computer skills and to overcome some kind of 'techno-fear' in order to do this.

A few more socially minded females recognised the value in encouraging literacy among people disadvantaged by a culture/language who they felt would be less likely to enrol into formal education.

Meeting the needs of the community

The library was already used as a local knowledge centre by some, though it was recognised that IT could potentially significantly improve that service and provide a way to be better informed about what was going on in an area - either local or remote, if you were planning a trip. People showed considerable interest in using such a service.

Local history and culture archives had been used from time to time, mainly for assistance in school project work, and were thought to be an essential library resource, though IT applications in this area were found to be of limited interest.

Providing links to local government received a mixed response. Some felt in principle it was a good idea but were doubtful about how effective it would be. Women who seemed most likely to participate actively in local government matters were the least interested in this application of IT:

'Don't believe that local community action would really work.'

'Would my point really be heard on a computer? You can ignore a computer - you can't ignore a person.'

New opportunities

Training centre for information and communication skills

Reactions to the potential use of the library as a training centre depended to a large extent on the subject-matter. People wanted what was on offer to be complementary to how they perceived the role of the library. Training connected to information and communication skills received an enthusiastic response and fitted with their perceptions. The advantages were that it would bring people into the library who could not go to college.

Basic computer skills training was particularly appealing, though it seemed more appropriate for adults than for younger groups, who were already taught such skills at school. The idea of an introductory session to the Internet created strong interest in all groups.

Centres where people could improve interpersonal communication skills generated interest and appeal across all groups, and overall the library was felt to be an appropriate place to house them. People responded favourably to the idea of improving communication skills through subject-matter they were interested in. Not surprisingly, guidance on interview techniques was of particular interest among school-leavers.

A place to try out new learning experiences

The opportunities presented by videoconference links had broad appeal. As well as education-related use, the most relevant general application was as a way to access support groups in health matters. The relevance of the subject-matter would encourage people to use unfamiliar technology and to acquire basic skills.

The idea of shared learning experiences through this channel had mixed appeal. The prospect of being able to 'attend' a lecture or consult an expert remotely was very motivating for a few, though the majority of the people we talked to were uninterested in this possibility. Learning a language was of interest to a few, as was the benefit of being able to have a tutorial if doing a correspondence course.

Access to advanced services, such as virtual reality, was especially motivating for younger male audiences, who were very enthusiastic at the prospect and thought it appropriate as long as the ideas were information- or communication-related. It was seen as a way for the library to move ahead and provide a unique service in allowing people to try out and use the latest new technology. Moreover, this group saw the library as the natural place where this could happen in the community:

'If the library doesn't offer it, who will?'

Security aspects were a concern across several of the groups. Worries were expressed about vandalism, and about 'dealing with kids monopolising equipment'.

Access to rare archives

The idea of being able to delve into 'rare hidden collections' had mixed appeal. Some were very enthusiastic, especially about the idea of being able to visit a museum or exhibition. Many were indifferent, and the males especially were more excited by the possibilities of being able to access moving images such as sporting archives or news bulletin archives.

Issues for users in introduction
and use of IT

Issue: Achieving the right balance

People were passionate about books, about being surrounded by books in peace and quiet, able to browse and find the unexpected - all important library values people do not want to lose. There was a strong concern expressed that 'once IT gets a foot in the door it could take over' at the expense of the bookstock and the 'good values' of the library:

'Nothing's going to stop new technology, but don't go too far.'

'IT mustn't take over from the books but bring the library into the 90s.'

'Worried that through technology the library will change and that books might eventually disappear. Must retain the value of the library.

Issue: Will it be free?

Keeping the service free was really important for many:

'The second you have to pay, you're putting it in a different category.'

'If it isn't free, the people who couldn't afford to pay would be put off.'

Mixed views were expressed regarding the acceptability of charges. Young people were more prepared to pay for services generally. Many felt that it would be acceptable to charge for some services, and compared this to the charges now made for ordering a book, while others felt quite strongly that all services ought to be free. There was a general consensus that initial trial of IT services, and basic instruction, should be free. Access from home was seen as a convenience for the slightly 'better off' who had their own equipment, and as such could be more acceptably charged for.

Issue: Having enough terminals

The demand for IT in libraries was further evidenced by the issue raised regarding the number of terminals required to provide an adequate service:

'Would you ever get enough terminals? How would you get on them?'

Apart from the funding aspect - which raised some concerns - people reacted negatively to the thought of banks of terminals, which they felt could be intimidating. If the number of terminals was limited, people accepted that some rationing/booking system would be necessary, to give everyone a chance to use them.

Other concerns

Other concerns were mentioned at a low level, but are worth noting:
  1. 'The introduction of new technology nearly always sees a reduction in staff. For an effective service, more staff would be needed: librarians to help and coach in skills, and technicians for when the computers crash.'

  2. 'Techno-fear' was evident among some - especially women. Despite some of them using computers at work, they did not seem confident about using them in other situations. The role of the librarian in encouraging and coaching will be vital with this group.

Home Contents
Chapter One: Access to knowledge, imagination and learning Chapter Two: Listening to the people Chapter Three: Skills for the new librarian Chapter Four: Network infrastructure Chapter Five: Investment and income Chapter Six: Copyright and licensing issues Chapter Seven: Performance and evaluation Chapter Eight: Implementation - creating the momentum Chapter Nine: A summary of recommendations and costs Appendices

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