We have written often about how statistics often inform (or, more accurately, misinform) council decisions about library closures. Should a small rural library have a slight dip in visits, councils will subsequently consider it ripe for closure and a great opportunity to save money – regardless of the actual needs of the local communities they serve. Reliance on visits alone is, as has been demonstrated before, a misleading measure of the service itself. That said it is not a measure that campaigners should ignore, if anything it should be used to their advantage. Methods for counting visits aren’t very reliable and easily open to manipulation by library users.
However, councils are also willing and able to manipulate the statistics where required to tip the odds in their favour come the time for consultation. Take, for example, the events in libraries and the materials produced to promote them. Author events and other such activities are often hosted by public libraries to help draw in visitors. This is particularly the case during the Summer Reading Challenge, a promotion designed to encourage children to read and one that often relies on events and promotional activity to encourage children to complete the challenge. There is one problem with promotional activity however, it costs money.
Whilst cutting promotional activity may seem like an insignificant saving at first, it can actually lead to much bigger savings further down the line – ultimately what the councils are trying to achieve. If libraries, for example, were forced to curtail promotional activities there would, obviously, be an impact on visits. Events and promotional activities drive up visits, often attracting people who would not usually use the library. Take the Summer Reading Challenge. Promoting that event throughout the summer encourages children to sign up and take part. Given that the Reading Challenge requires three return visits in order to complete it (and receive the certificate of course!), one can see how vital promotion of the Reading Challenge is in terms of attracting visits.
And it isn’t just the Summer Reading Challenge this affects. Author events are also a big driver of library visits. Often an author event can attract people to the library who are not ordinarily members, but are interested in the author themselves. If they are not aware of such an event (via a press release in the local paper for example), then obviously they will not attend and there will be a subsequent impact on library visits. Reduce or prohibit promotional activity therefore, and there will be a subsequent decline in visits. And we know what a decline in visits leads to.
This will to drive down promotional activity and limit the nature and scope of promotional activities is all the more disturbing when set against the backdrop of the 1964 Libraries Act. The Act clearly states:
“It shall be the duty of every library authority to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof…. of encouraging both adults and children to make full use of the library service.” [emphasis mine]
If library authorities are not promoting activities or events within your library network, they are not ‘encouraging’ adults and children to make full use of the library. Encouraging people to use the library requires promotional activity and this is fundamental to the delivery of a comprehensive and efficient library service.
So, whilst the initial cut in promotional activity may not itself save huge sums of money, the impact of such a cut undoubtedly will. Cut the promotional activity, cut the visits, cut the libraries. But a cut in promotional activity does not mean that an event cannot be promoted. In the age of social media, any one of us can promote an event and share it with hundreds, thousands, millions at the click of a button. If the councils won’t do it, then it is up to us to step up and do it for them.