making the most of your library


By John Hughes, Marketing, CIPFA

A library is a national treasure; for many it is a place to borrow books, use the internet and a centre of infinite information. However, the services used in a library can vary depending on the level of deprivation. Local authorities need to make provision to support the community and give access to those that need the services of a library when it is most useful.

Rise of the machines

There are flagship libraries being built that offer a wider range of services, where there is more emphasis on digital information. That could include access to e-books, being able to edit films or developing a new skill with e-learning. There is no other place in communities that is open to all and has the capabilities to facilitate these type of activities. Darren Henley of the Arts Council has stated that he wants all libraries in the UK to offer free Wi-Fi by March 2016. Our data suggest these digital services are in more demand in deprived areas, reflecting the way a modern library is being used.

Diverse services

Libraries are adapting to change and are now offering more services such as yoga classes and homework clubs. It is fulfilling the need to help knit communities together and improve social mobility.  The British Council has recently published the Voices Magazine that highlights that even in a digital age we still need public libraries, demonstrated by a resurgence in visitor numbers. There is investment to develop business centres to support business enterprise in a venture with the IPO (Intellectual Property Office) and the British Library that highlights creative thinking and working in partnership. With all this activity, why are libraries struggling with funding when they are being used by so many people, from all demographics?   

The data speaks volumes

In more deprived areas a library has even more importance. It has more to offer to the community as the best place to get information about a huge range of services and benefits.  If a library’s opening hours are cut, or if there are library closures then those people who live in deprived areas are less likely to travel to a library further away. In a more affluent area young people will travel on average 4.1km as opposed to those living in poorer communities who will travel on average only 1.6km. So understanding the data and being able to look at how these services are delivered allow you to re-imagine how that service needs to look in the future.

Continuing Budget Cuts

The public sector is getting used to continuing budget cuts and the operational challenges that brings, so it is increasingly important for organisations to demonstrate the value for money they provide. Councils are keen to capture this is in surveys across a range of services, but to really understand what your citizens are doing you need to look closer at the figures and compare what you do to your nearest neighbours who face similar issues. Knowing more about the habits of your audience will help you to make changes that will mean the most to your community. Birmingham Library opened to a fan fayre but has had to adjust its opening hours such that it best suits customer demand.


Over 35,000 people now volunteer in libraries that have enabled a much more diverse workforce who can provide a range of skills. These skills help a wide range of visitors, from early years reading schemes to providing a safe environment for the most vulnerable to be supported in their learning. In some exemplar projects, like in the City of York, they are helping to make our ageing population more digitally savvy. Armed with tablets (of the digital variety) they are being taught new ways to be connected to their bank, friends and family, which helps them to feel more integrated into the community. Local Government’s cultural departments need to be looking at these types of trends and working towards improving their service for the modern age. To do that you need to measure a range of indicators that allow you to really know how you are performing and how you are judged by your library users. It will also allow you to shape your services for the future and to keep your place at the centre of the community.

For more information about our CIPFA's Public Library User Survey contact

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