Libraries have historically been places where people meet to share information, ideas and to develop knowledge and are at heart more about people than they are about books or computers. Increasingly the idea of the library as a ‘community space’ has gained momentum as libraries (or those that manage them), under financial pressure, seek to show the viability of the physical spaces and generate revenue from them. Makerspaces, comic-cons, fitness classes and gigs frequently take place in libraries both within and outside of normal opening hours.
Whilst I love all these things and enjoy seeing the library as a thriving hub of the community, open to all and encouraging new people to visit, on my last trip to a busy city centre library I wondered, as I cast my gaze towards those using the books and computers amidst the Saturday afternoon events, whether all this fun had a negative impact on those who just wanted to use the library for more…’library’ things? And how do we decide what is and isn’t something which should happen in a library, or does anything go?
There is a fine line to balance on here. On the one hand holding events like these allows the library to encourage visitors who may discover library services new to them, and encourages an energetic and positive community around the library. But on the other hand, the recent protests surrounding Lambeth’s Libraries in London demonstrated the idea of library as community centre taken too far – proposals were to hand over several of the council libraries to private gyms with small provision for a ‘library’ in the form of an unstaffed room with a limited selection of books. With this in mind we need to balance the desire to take library services forward as ‘not just books’ and to serve the community and meet their needs and wants, with the need to retain the important and underlying services that a library should provide with trained professional staff and adequate resources, and not let the former overtake or overshadow the latter. Whilst libraries may want to grow and expand their services, shouldn’t commercialisation and private interests be avoided at all costs?
Do you work in a library which offers ‘extracurricular’ events? Do you think these kinds of activities are beneficial or potentially damaging to libraries? Do we need to remember our roots or move towards the future? How can we get the balance right?