As we pointed out in the previous post, there are many ways to attract new users to the library’s perimeters, and some of them can be easily implemented.
Didn’t read our first article? You can find it here.
We know that getting started is the hardest part in implementing a new service. Therefore, we talked with Rolf Hapel, Director of Citizens’ Services and Libraries at DOKK1, the main library in Aarhus, Denmark. He provided some insights regarding the library’s activity that we want to share with you. In this interview, you will learn about how DOKK1 was developed and managed to be such a success.
1.When reviewing the statistics in the library sector, we’ve noticed a general trend that the library usage has decreased in the past few years. Why do you think that happened?
Answer: Well, in fact, in Denmark, the library usage has increased over the last few years (usage – measured in number of visitors to the physical libraries), while the number of book loans has gone down. The explanation for the latter is of course linked to the ever more prevalent digitization of knowledge and cultural content. Even so, the explanation for the increased number of visits to the libraries in Denmark has to do with the fact that, for a number of years, the Danish libraries have been working to establish new and relevant services and business models that for instance contain various elements of citizens’ services.
2.We think libraries should go beyond their main activity when searching for new ways to attract citizens to the library. How are you proceeding at DOKK1(the main library) when implementing a new service and choosing a partner?
Answer: Yes, I agree. In Denmark, there are various good examples of partnerships between libraries and other public entities or organisations from the civic society (e.g., NGO’s, volunteers, etc.). In Aarhus, at DOKK1 we have more than 130 registered partnerships. The process is simple: the partner will bring in an activity, the library will provide space, promote the activity (often via social media) and give help with logistics. The prerequisite, of course, being that the actual activity is aligned with our general purpose of promoting lifelong learning and cultural experience and that it fits in with our program profile. About 60% of our programs are either done entirely or partly by our partners.
3.Dokk1 has become a community center, offering a mix of library services and public services. How did you come up with this strategy?
Answer: In 2004 there was a national political urge towards creating a kind of ‘one-stop-shop’ for public service. The reason was that people had to move from office to office just to have trivial processes like moving to another city done. Eventually in 2005 there was a law on that matter that passed in the parliament. To me it was obvious that a municipal citizens’ service would have a lot in common with the libraries, as we in the Danish library act also have an obligation to provide governmental information to the public, as would the citizens’ service.Furthermore, both citizens’ services and libraries were born with a service obligation and the libraries were already there all over the landscape and it would be great for the citizens if more functionality was built in the libraries. So both from an institutional and a user perspective this has been a very good development, even if you probably still can find a few librarians around that might be a bit frustrated over the fact that they have to issue a passport now and again.
4.Has the number of library visits increased since the library opening? Why is that? Do you have some numbers to share with us?
Answer: Yes, the number of visits has increased dramatically – from around 500,000 per year in the old main library to 1,3 mill in the new. About 10% of visitors are coming for citizens’ services. Now, almost two years after the opening, there is no sign of a decreased interest – the number of visitors is still on that level.I believe that the reasons for the very high number of visitors are multiple: There are really good spaces for families and children, Dokk1 has also proved to be a great place to study, there are various levels of ‘togetherness’ or ‘remoteness’ that you can choose from, we have a versatile event program with a broad appeal to all kind of user groups, the citizens’ service is easy to find. Overall, we have an open and friendly environment with a nice cafe and a great playground – and there is always something new going on.
Please raise your hand if you love your local library. There is no doubt that people value libraries as a great source of information and relaxation during work or leisure time. Nonetheless, by taking a short look at the public library statistics offered by UNESCO, it might seem there is a trend among public libraries to have their funding cut, to have decreased the amount of book loans or to have reduced the number of their branches.
So what can libraries do to fight this trend? The library of the future is not just a place that offers books. There is much more a library can offer to its visitors. To serve as inspiration, we have started a series of posts with the aim to share relevant insights and perspectives from around the world. There are many creative ways to attract more users to the public library. In this first post, we’ll start with three of them.
Libraries are a very trusted source of information and at the same time they are at the heart of the community, connecting people. As we’ve mentioned in our first article, partnerships with other public institutions and private organizations represent a great way to create a community space. But there is also the possibility to create partnerships with other libraries and offer a more attractive service to users. In this post, we will walk you through two ways libraries can collaborate and attract more visitors.
For the second article in our series, we talked with Ian Anstice, editor of the Public Libraries News website in the UK. He talks more about the opportunities and challenges libraries can face when collaborating in their activities.
1. On your website, you have a few articles about library collaboration, which suggest that libraries should combine their activities and offer a mix of library services to users in a region or even nationwide. Why is that?
Answer: Because it’s cheaper and means a better product for consumers. Larger authorities mean greater economies of scale and at the same time, it means that a library user is less bothered by petty boundaries. However, one also needs to be careful about the too large a service. A happy common ground may be a consortium such as LibrariesWest, where local control is kept with the council but many behind-the-scenes tasks are effectively done by one organisation. That seems to me to be the best solution in the harsh financial environment that many UK library systems find themselves in at the moment.
2. What would be the benefits and challenges of this kind of strategy?
Answer: Benefits are economies of scale (sadly, this also meaning less library workers) and an improved access to resources for the public. The disadvantage is a taking away of local control if done badly. One also needs to be careful of fully combining services, as the messy divorce currently under way in the Tri-borough shows (In 2017, the tri-borough broke up as Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea/Westminster mutually accused each other of lack of faith). Nothing is permanent and if one council decides they no longer want to play, this can create an awful and costly mess. And the increased cost is the last thing we need at the moment. One other danger of merging the library services is the loss of local input as to stock. Waterstones in this country proved the danger of purchasing centrally – usage went down when it did that and it has gone back up again now that individual branch managers have more say. The same is in libraries. The trick is to combine local choice when it comes to stock and offer, with regional or larger merging of other services.
3. How can libraries organize and what new types of services could they offer if they combine their activities?
Answer: For the public, a combined library card, stock, and website would be obvious wins in terms of offers. For the councils themselves, it means less need to duplicate backroom staff and have all those relatively expensive senior staff. We already see that in a few, such as LibrariesWest and the London Libraries Consortium (LLC). I would also expect joint training packages, recruitment programmes and promotional activities. Indeed, it does not take a crystal ball to see these things. They’re already happening, but patchily and organically.
4. How would these changes be perceived by the users of the library?
Answer: Library users are so conditioned in the UK to fear that their local library might be closing that anything like this would probably be met with relief at worst. It would also be something welcomed by the government (who are always keen for local councils to save costs and be “imaginative”). There would be some fear of loss of local control but I suspect most people prefer their library services open, first, and everything else, second.
5. Do you have additional comments or advice for libraries wanting to implement new and attractive programs in their libraries?
Answer: Have a think about why you’re doing it. Is it because it looks shiny or you want to get noticed? That’s not so good. Is it something that stands a chance of success after the lifetime of the initial funding? That’s better. I don’t mean avoid things that may fail. Failure is good. Failure helps you and your organisation learn. Just be honest with yourself about your motives. Oh, and most obviously, check to see if it has been successfully elsewhere. There’s a lot of insularity, even now, in public libraries. I firmly believe that we can learn from each other. That’s why I do Public Libraries News. We’re information professionals and part of that means we should be good at doing our research.