"Despite the enormous challenges at a time of brutal cuts in the last decade, library professionals have enormous passion for their vocation. "
Beth Walker from Harrogate International Festivals
A national conference is being held this month to help write the next chapter in the continued future of the country’s libraries.
Being staged in Harrogate on Friday, July 19, the National Libraries Conference will explore how libraries can ensure their continued existence in an age of e-readers and the internet being the source of all information – 100 years after legislation laid the foundations for the library service to become a truly national service.
The Public Libraries Act 1919 took responsibility for libraries away from borough councils and gave it to county councils. It also removed the rates cap that prevented local authorities from establishing new libraries.
However, since 2010, more than 450 libraries have closed across the UK, and the future of many more are in doubt. A good number of those facing the axe were only saved by local community groups taking over the day to day running of them.
Organised by Harrogate International Festivals, senior librarians from across the country being joined by industry experts and leading authors at the one-day event – the first of its kind to specifically aim at making libraries relevant in a digital age.
Keynote addresses will come from chief executive of Arts Council England, Darren Henley OBE, who will open the conference, and best-selling author and libraries advocate, Ann Cleeves - whose Vera and Shetlands series were adapted for ITV and the BBC.
The pair will be joined by Stewart Bain - the former senior library assistant at Orkney Library dubbed “Twitter’s favourite librarian” by The Times – who will lead a marketing and social media workshop to help attract new audiences to libraries.
Broadcaster Mark Lawson will chair a discussion with Mr Bain, book vlogger and librarian Simon Savidge, and deputy editor of The Bookseller, Benedicte Page, on how to engage an audience in the age of the Internet.
The delegates will also examine engagement in the modern world, and how libraries can engage with publishers and build fruitful and long-lasting relationships.
Beth Walker, Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Harrogate International Festivals, said: “Despite the enormous challenges at a time of brutal cuts in the last decade, library professionals have enormous passion for their vocation.
“We wanted to give them a platform that showed they were valued in the literary community, and to use learning from the conference to build on our outreach work to help support and safeguard their future.
“Whilst libraries enrich communities, I don’t think they are as highly valued as they should be. This conference will help give them the skills and knowledge to enable them to write the next chapter in their history, one that attracts a new breed of library user and ensures their continued survival.”
Well-known Library supporters include Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, who described the public library “a great equaliser”, and Harry Potter author JK Rowling who said: “when in doubt, go to the library”.
Publishing giant James Patterson, who has been the most-borrowed author of adult fiction in UK libraries for the past 11 years in a row, said: “I firmly believe that better readers become better thinkers, and libraries and book festivals play a key role in spreading the joy of reading.”
Stewart Bain - who won Librarian of the Year in 2016 – said: “Having a vocal ambassador like Ann Cleeves, a champion of libraries and their importance to our communities, is a real morale boost for those working in a sector that’s increasingly under pressure.”
Beth added: “We’re passionate about promoting reading, and the importance of libraries within communities.
“One of the things we discovered with our work with libraries around our annual Big Read, which aims to encourage crime fiction fans - and entice reluctant readers - to read and discuss the same book and utilise their local library service, was how much pressure is on librarians to deliver so much with so few resources.”