Community Knowledge Hub and Libraries

Thanks to team member Gary for this post, originally posted on his blog.


Whilst following “The Future of Library Services in the Big Society” conference via Twitter today (#libraries11) I came across a link to “Community Knowledge Hub“. This hub will

“support the exchange of ideas, knowledge and expertise between organisations with a common interest in realising the benefits of community enterprise.” To be launched in July 2011, “The first Community Knowledge Hub will focus on libraries, providing support to community organisations and local authorities exploring community management solutions as an alternative to closure” and “support the evolution of community managed library services.”

Of course I agree that library services should be saved, but I still believe that it is the responsibility of the local authority to provide public library services. Some reasons for this include:

  • Need for impartiality
  • Statutory duties
  • Economies of scale
  • Existing expertise
  • Social needs.

These are just a handful of reasons and many more can be found on the Voices For The Library site.

Even though many people see the library building and its books as “The library service” this isn’t true. A library service isn’t only defined by a building full of stock, it also depends upon the expertise of the people running the library service, whether they are staffing that building or running services that support front line staff.

With regard to the development of library services, most communities won’t be handed a library service, they will just be handed a building containing books and other stock. Depending on how much control local authorities give to the communities, the community may have to pay for other assets transferred eg. stock; and (if they want to maintain a library service of value) they will generally have to pay to be part of the existing computer network and/or consult with the local authority on running a library service.

It’s ironic that the handing over of library services to local communities is described as asset transfer. The word “asset” implies that the library service has a value. I totally agree with this idea… library services do have a value… In which case, why are local authorities deciding that some libraries are of such little value that they are happy to dump them in a way that implies they don’t care what happens? “Ah! But they are handing them over to local communities, so they are not dumping them,” I can hear people say. In which case, you may like to know that in most cases if local communities don’t volunteer to take over a library, the library will be forced to close. That sounds like ‘dumping them’ to me.

“Each network will provide specialist advice, guidance and resources to drive up the quality and transformative potential of public services that are transferred to then delivered by and for local communities.”

Handing over a service to any organisation (in this case, the community) that doesn’t contain the specialist skills, resources or knowledge to run that service just sounds crazy. It basically means building library services from scratch. Why? Why reinvent the wheel? Why get rid of all that specialist skill, resource and knowledge provided by those who had previously helped provide library services via the local authority and then rebuild it?

“We believe that library services play a vitally important role at the very heart of our communities, and that ‘doing nothing’ would come at a considerable cost. “

I agree, but doing something that fragments a library service, reduces the value of that library service and removes expert skills and knowledge that has been built up over years is also a step backwards, which would come with just as much of a “considerable cost” as “doing nothing”.