The British Library is leading an 18-month project to determine the possibility of a single digital presence for UK public libraries, backed by more than £260,000 worth of funding.
The project will investigate user expectations and demand for what a national online platform for public libraries might deliver, and will explore the network of stakeholder groups and organisations best placed to make it a reality. The development of a single digital presence of this kind was one of the key recommendations of William Sieghart’s 2014 library report for England.
Funded by £236,384 from Arts Council England and £30,000 from the Carnegie UK Trust, the British Library-led project will undertake market analysis, stakeholder interviews, workshops and other research. It will liaise with organisations from across the home nations, assessing the potential and scope for a UK-wide platform providing access to local collections and services.
In doing so, it will build on the work of the Single Digital Libraries Presence Steering Group, which has developed a range of early ideas on a universal online platform for the UK’s public libraries, and a report on a single digital presence by commercial library services provider Bibliocommons.
Both Arts Council England and the Carnegie UK Trust believe the British Library is "uniquely placed" to carry out the research.
Brian Ashley, director of libraries for Arts Council England, said: “Inhabiting the mobile, digital space, complementing and energising the existing library offer, is central to the future strength and relevance of libraries. As the development agency for libraries, the Arts Council is very excited by the prospect of it becoming a reality." He said that developing the digital service would be a "challenge" but that the Carnegie UK Trust and the British Library were good partners to make it a success.
Martyn Evans, chief executive of the Carnegie UK Trust, added that the British Library has the "credibility, expertise and stature" to "tackle this complex project".
Roly Keating, chief executive of the British Library, said the institution has recently renewed its focus on public libraries as part of its Living Knowledge strategy which runs to 2023 and will look at public libraries' ability to grow "given the right vision".
"We are excited to be leading this scoping work for a single digital presence and I look forward to working with stakeholders from across the sector – and across the UK – to develop a full understanding of exactly what might be possible,” he added.
A draft report of options and emerging findings as well as recommendations on how they might be taken forward will be published within the first year of the project.
Emerging findings from the project will be shared in autumn 2018, with the final report published in 2019.
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