World Library Congress – Closing Libraries is ‘short-sighted’

Closing down libraries to save money is ‘one of the most short-sighted decisions that public officials can make’, the World Library and Information Congress has heard.
Speaking at the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) annual congress in Athens, Open Knowledge Foundation chief executive Catherine Stihler said ‘libraries are too often seen as an easy target for cuts’. The former MEP for Scotland said libraries can also ‘fill the gap’ in the delivery of coding lessons and data practice in schools, to ensure people across Europe and the world have the skills for the jobs of the future.

In 2017, it is estimated that more than 120 libraries closed their doors in England, Wales and Scotland. But a recent study by the Carnegie UK Trust found that people aged 15-24 in England are the most likely age group to use libraries. And nearly half of people aged 25 to 34 still visit them, according to the study.

The IFLA World Library and Information Congress (https://2019.ifla.org/) is the international flagship professional and trade event for the library and information services sector, bringing together over 3,500 participants from more than 120 countries.

In her address to the World Library and Information Congress, Open Knowledge Foundation chief executive Catherine Stihler said:
“Governments across the world must now work harder to give everyone access to key information and the ability to use it to understand and shape their lives; as well as making powerful institutions more accountable; and ensuring vital research information that can help us tackle challenges such as poverty and climate change is available to all.

“In short, we need a future that is fair, free and open.

“But this is not the way things are going in the UK, the EU, the US, China and across our world.

“Instead, we see in the UK, councils across the country facing major financial pressures, and libraries are too often seen as an easy target for cuts.

“But closing down a library has to be one of the most short-sighted decisions that public officials can make, with serious consequences for the future of local communities.”

She added:
“There is a widespread misconception that the services offered are out-of-date – a relic of a bygone age before youngsters started carrying smartphones in their pockets with instant access to Wikipedia, and before they started downloading books on their Kindle.

“Today, the most successful libraries have remodelled themselves to become fit for the 21st century, and more can follow suit if they receive the right support and advice, and have the backing of governments and councils.

“I have long championed the importance of coding as part of the education curriculum, especially given that my home country of Scotland is home to more than 100,000 digital tech economy jobs.

“But while there remains a shortfall in what is delivered in our schools in terms of coding and data practice, libraries can fill that gap.

“Our world is moulded in code, and libraries offer young people an opportunity to bring ideas to life and build things that will bring joy to millions.

“So by embracing the future, they can continue to be an unrivalled place of learning, like they always were for previous generations.”