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‘If there’s nowhere else to go, this is where they come’: how Britain’s libraries provide much more than books

🌈 Abstract

The article provides an in-depth look at the modern role and challenges of public libraries, using the Battle library in Reading, UK as a case study. It explores how libraries have evolved to serve as hubs for diverse community needs beyond just book lending, and the strain this places on library staff and resources. The article highlights the dedication and creativity of the library managers, Terry Curran and Amanda Giles, as they navigate these changing demands.

🙋 Q&A

[01] The Modern Role of Public Libraries

1. What are some of the diverse services and functions that public libraries now provide beyond just book lending?

  • Libraries now serve as informal citizens advice bureaus, business development centers, community centers, mental health providers, literacy and language learning centers, asylum support providers, citizenship and driving test centers, and more.
  • Libraries lend out non-book items like footballs, hearing aid batteries, winter coats, and host clubs/groups for activities like knitting, coding, gardening, and more.
  • Libraries provide spaces for NHS services, job interview outfitting, food banks, and other community needs.

2. How have budget cuts and closures impacted public libraries?

  • About 800 UK libraries (nearly 1 in 5) have closed since 2010, and national library spending has dropped by over 25%.
  • Many libraries are now run by volunteers, which is less effective in areas of greatest need.
  • Libraries are increasingly becoming the "social care safety net" for many vulnerable populations, but library staff are not equipped to handle these clinical responsibilities.

3. What are some of the creative ways the Battle library tries to engage the community?

  • Curran and Giles create whimsical book displays and 3D book nook dioramas to attract visitors.
  • They offer free children's activities like treasure hunts, crafts, and storytimes to draw in families.
  • They go above and beyond to make the library welcoming and accessible, even providing free printing and scanning services.

[02] The Dedication of Library Staff

1. How do the managers Terry Curran and Amanda Giles work together to run the Battle library?

  • Curran and Giles have a close friendship and complementary skills, with Curran handling the "manager-ish" duties and Giles providing organizational structure.
  • They bicker but clearly care for each other, with Giles as the "tougher" one and Curran as the more approachable, kindhearted manager.
  • They go to great lengths to make the library inviting, even using their own money to fund activities and displays.

2. What are some of the ways library staff go above and beyond to support their patrons?

  • Curran and Giles provide hands-on assistance to patrons struggling with technology, forms, and other tasks, even though it's not strictly required of them.
  • They are attuned to signs of distress or hardship among their regular patrons and try to connect them with resources.
  • Library staff develop deep knowledge of their community's needs over time in order to cater to them effectively.

3. How do the working conditions and responsibilities of library staff impact them?

  • Curran and Giles often work long hours, with Curran even teaching himself balloon-making to handle children's requests.
  • The emotional toll of dealing with patrons in crisis can be wearing, and female staff sometimes feel vulnerable.
  • Despite their dedication, library staff feel their efforts are underappreciated by the public at times.
Shared by Daniel Chen ·
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