The Multi-Functional Library: What Libraries Can Represent for Local Governments

The 10th World Urban Forum is taking place in Abu Dhabi next week, bringing together representatives of villages, towns and cities from around the world.

Given the powerful role of local government in decisions about libraries – and public libraries in particular – this is a key audience.

IFLA will be attending, and will use the opportunity to highlight what can be gained from close engagement with libraries as a means of delivering on a variety of local goals and public goods.

Here are just ten examples of what a library can represent to a local authority:

1. A Cultural Centre: libraries are fundamentally about books and literature. They provide an opportunity for everyone to engage with the written word, provide a showcase for authors – especially local ones – and have been key players in initiatives such as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

2. A learning hub: not just through supporting a love of reading, but also through advice, informal and more formal opportunities, libraries are also a core part of the infrastructure for promoting literacy, especially beyond school age. Literacy in turn is an enabling skill for progress in so many other areas.

3. A further education portal: libraries’ contribution to learning doesn’t stop there. In many places, they provide the space for other training opportunities, developing computer skills or entrepreneurship. They can also be a stepping-stone towards more in-depth learning opportunities.

4. A public health information point: many local governments have a role in promoting health and well-being. Information plays a key role in this, enabling people to make better choices about they eat and live, and how to manage conditions.

5. A guardian of local history: Many libraries maintain collections of local materials, documenting an area’s past. Through holding, and giving access to relevant publications and materials, they are a key reference for local historians, as well as for those carrying out wider research.

6. A showcase for the circular economy: libraries are already a great example of the sharing economy in the case of books. More and more are realising their potential to demonstrate other practices and techniques for sustainable consumption, as well as places to provide sustainability education.

7. A shop window: clearly the internet is playing a growing role in informing people about council initiatives. However, it is not possible to be sure that everyone will visit a website regularly. Libraries offer a great additional means of getting posters, leaflets and other information in front of people.

8. An open civic space: public libraries should be open for all, often providing the only non-commercial indoor space in a community. In many cases, libraries have gone one step further, organising debates, or helping people to use open government data and so build democratic engagement.

9. An eGovernment access station: as many government services move to an online-only format, it is essential to offer a means for people who lack connectivity, hardware or confidence to fill in the necessary forms or make the necessary request. Libraries provide this.

10. A source of pride: finally, a great library can represent a real source of civic pride, both for locals and visitors. Either as historic civic buildings, or at the heart of equality-focused redevelopment programmes, they can add to the sense of belonging and engagement with place.

Don’t hesitate to share any other roles you think that libraries perform in the comments box below!

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