Friday, 21 February 2014

Public libraries and economic impact.

Now people that know we well know that I'm not a sucker for conspiracy theories, I'm more of a logical being, so when i see Arts Council England (ACE) launching a new research programme at the same time as a Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry is called into their work i think "that makes sense, they are trying to prove themselves" but when i see it's on the 'economic impact' of libraries my heart sinks and doubts begin to set in..

"But" i hear you say "at this moment any research into the impact of public libraries is worthwhile", well is it?
Over the last 10-20 years there have been a multitude (20+?) of reports, inquiries, consultations into public libraries all backed up by research, some good some bad, and in the first stage of their programme ACE intend to pull this research together, but why concentrate on 'economic impact'?

I recently asked for people's opinions on this and Lauren Smith – PhD Researcher, University of Strathclyde, said;

".....economic contribution is a last ditch effort to get the Tories to listen - they don't care about anything that has social impact. They also don't care about things that cost "taxpayers' money" even if they can be shown to be saving money elsewhere, but might possibly listen if it can be shown on a graph that they contribute to businesses making money.

It's an approach that's been taken in America where libraries can encourage for tax levies (e.g. but research here has been abandoned in the past because, well, it's bunkum."

David McMenemy, Course Director MSc/PgDip Information and Library Studies, University of Strathclyde has written extensively about this topic and in his paper 'What is the true value of a public library?' published in the journal 'Library Review' in 2007 he argued that;
"focussing on the economic value of an institution like the public library runs the risk of demeaning its social and intellectual foundations"

We all know that the government view the arts and culture in terms of financial return and we all know that there is an overriding agenda to commercialise, divest and privatise libraries so it's only fitting that ACE concentrate on 'economic impact'.
Add to this the fact that the panel of 'experts' for the forthcoming Sieghart report into public libraries is loaded with private interests, and to be fair 2 or 3 library people, and you can start to smell an agenda.

Wayne Bivens-Tatum in his book 'Libraries and the Enlightenment' suggests that libraries are places “where values other than the strictly commercial survive and inspire, places people can go, physically or virtually, and emerge better people, their lives improved and through them perhaps our society improved.”

Now that's something we can hopefully all agree on?

No comments:

Post a Comment