Will European public libraries be set back tens of years from 2021?

Skjermbilde 2020-08-13 kl. 16.47.45

Libraries lost domain to commercial streaming. Is IKEA next, if they only turn spines out?

>> August 16: Shared by British site PublicLibrariesNews under International News

This April members of the European library organization EBLIDA were invited to take part in a survey on the conditions of libraries during the Corona. Now they have prepared a – premilinary – report: «A European library agenda for the post-Covid 19 age» (pdf), where they not only summarize the survey, but invite to debate around five fields where the corona has changed the conditions for library operations:

  • Exponential social distancing: a well-connected two-meter library;
  • Technologies are mutating and shaping libraries in new ways;
  • Uncharted economic territory: review the library budget composition;
  • Library governance at central and local levels;
  • Do not forget the climate change opportunity and threat.

Much of the content of the first two points will be well known by members of the library communities since March but in the new report we think item 3 is most important, especially because it has not been much on the agenda yet. This is the wording of the executive summary on this point, plus some other quotes (the emphasis are ours):

«As a result of the pandemic, the global economy is to projected to contract sharply in 2020. Administrators and politicians may play a key role in the post-Covid-19 age with real terms cuts in the library funding.

Financial hardship will become obvious in 2021 and library budgets may suffer from two inherent features. The first is that public libraries’ income is almost solely generated at local level by city or regional authorities – the same can be said for research libraries sourced almost exclusively by universities. The second is that many items in library budgets have an inelastic nature: building maintenance, personnel and resources allocated to operations, in particular to the purchase of digital resources, cannot easily be re-adjusted to meet new financial requirements.

Skjermbilde 2020-08-09 kl. 21.00.59

Programs in libraries will suffer not only from distancing rules but from budget cuts that may bring libraries back to basics. Here from Gothenburg Public Library in November

… downsizing library operations may therefore end up with substantial budgetary cuts to the “social” library sector, to the “third place” library, and the library as meeting place – in other words, the library operating with and within the communities to which it refers – which has been in the last decades, one of the most stimulating developments in the public library sector».

And further down:

«The risks entailed by this new library “atlas”, to use Lankes’ expression, should not be underestimated: it will not be easy to run, or to re-invent, a library in a generalised two-meter society where events are forbidden, 75 % of chairs are removed, services to customers have to comply with social distancing rules and library’s outreach is restricted in many ways. And why is it that if library activities are considered “essential”, “vital”, “key” for society, they can be locked down when confronted with the acid test of the Covid-19?

Skjermbilde 2020-08-10 kl. 11.04.11It should also be remembered that libraries have lost the monopoly on free access to information services. They are challenged on two fronts. On the one hand, information service providers, like Google, distribute free and universal access to content based on advertising revenues and have taken up some of the traditional services libraries used to provide. On the other hand, aggregators, like Netflix, ensure massive distribution of content at low subscription costs. It is not yet known how long the journey to the discovery of the Covid- 19 vaccine will take. In the longer term, with so many restrictions and big tech companies becoming even more powerful in the aftermath of the Covid 19,18 to what extent will libraries restore their past state of affairs after the Covid-19 crisis?»

The EBLIDA strategy in this situation is lobbying and appeals for funds for restructuring. The EU has some European Structural and Investment Funds. But they don’t sound very optimistic. Hopefully they’ll develop this further by the launch of the concluding report.

Moss, Norway, August 15th, Anders Ericson

PS: This blog is written in Norwegian (Anders) and Swedish (Mikael) however with some inserts in English.

Leave a Reply

Translate »
%d bloggers like this: