Ten years ago the library – a physical, deliberately designed space containing books, periodicals, films, in which readers work silently – was heralded as dead. Commentators pointed to knowledge hierarchies collapsed by the internet, while technology offered ever-more individualised access. As society becomes increasingly comfortable with digital capacities, however, it appears that the library’s death has been greatly exaggerated: as one report suggests, ‘future bookshelves will not be wholly virtual, and libraries will thrive – although in a variety of new social, cultural, and architectural forms.’ The possibilities inherent in the library’s ‘remixed’ form are exciting: who doesn’t welcome widening access, new information structures, global collaboration, or a renewed enthusiasm for lifelong learning? Indeed, libraries offered such opportunities long before the digital age.
Certainly at Gladstone’s Library, however, and surely in many other libraries, the remix is intellectually embraced but chronically underfunded. For many, limited funds and a roof that is leaking are familiar challenges. What happens when one half of a library’s users consider silence a precious commodity and the other half experience it as an exclusionary force? How to remix when there is no money? How to persuade the public that a library really is for them? How best to realise a library’s new lease of life? This session brings us together for a light-hearted discussion of such challenges – and thinking about overcoming them with creative, effective, low-cost methods.
Louisa Yates, Director of Collections and Research, Gladstone’s Library, Visiting Lecturer in English, University of Chester