Getting young people back into libraries

Not so quiet in the library. Cardiff Central Library holds weekly concerts to encourage new members. Image Credit: Eloise Mclennan

Not so quiet in the library. Cardiff Central Library holds regular music event to encourage new members. Image Credit: Eloise Mclennan

Silence in the library. It’s a well established concept. You walk in, keep your head down grab the book, CD or DVD you came for and leave. Under no circumstance do you talk to anyone else.  Unless you break something, in which case you hide it, mumble apologies and leave as quickly as possible in the hope that no one else saw you.  It’s clear, historic, and very British.

The rise of digital publications since the release of e-books and digital cataloging has made going to the library an even more solitary event. Whilst reading a book is generally considered to be a private process, as the reader fills in blanks in the text with their own imagination, nowadays you can check your books out and return them without speaking to a single soul. You don’t even have to make eye contact with anyone.

Local government is pushing to fill libraries with readers. Image credit: Eloise McLennan

Local government is pushing to fill libraries with readers. Image credit: Eloise McLennan

Libraries were the  consider Google of their day, however nowadays young people have Google. If libraries lack a social aspect, why should young people bother to go?

Get it Loud in Libraries has been organising music events since 2010, inviting artists to perform between the shelves of carefully categorized books and charging the public a small entrance fee. Compared to expensive stadium concert tickets, a £6 entrance fee is an interesting concept for young people who don’t have the money to spend on pricey tickets.  And for a parent, “I’m going to the library,” sounds far more comforting than “I’m going to a club in Soho to see -insertdodgynamehere-”.

Dimmick is in full support of the introduction of alternative events in libraries across the UK, “It could be a gig it could be a theatre performance, it could be sporting stars,” he said “It could be anything to get people into the space and then to cross sell and upsell the books and the services that they offer whilst they have a captive audience.”

A similar project was launched in Essex in the 1970’s. Harlow Town Park was packed by thousands of people from surrounding communities who came weekly to see bands like the Bay City Rollers, The Sweet, The Jam and a whole host of gigs that were free to the public.

The Sods at Harlow Bandstand in 1978. Image by Micky Mazda

The Sods at Harlow Bandstand in 1978. Image by Micky Mazda

As Harlow was newly developed at the time, the council used the events to draw in people who thought that Harlow was just soulless houses. This simple concept of using music to debunk a preconceived idea of a place worked well in the 1970’s and there is a chance that libraries holding alternative events could have the same effects in 2013, making them a hub for social activities within communities.

Making reading e-zine-er

Alongside hosting alternative events, Canton library in Wales is attempting to compete with the digital market by launching an “e-zine”. The service is a new digital library that compiles over 250 magazine titles that are free for users to read and download to tablets, smartphones or laptops. “Many people who didn’t think libraries were for them can take a fresh look at the libraries in Wales,” said Cardiff minister for culture and sport John Griffiths,  “how they can save a considerable amount of money and discover new areas of interest by using the full range of services available both online and at their local library.”

This launch is just one of Cardiff councils development framework Libraries Inspire. Following reports of 200 library closures in 2012, both councils and library members are keen to lower the number of closures before 2016.

“I’m really excited to be able to access so many magazine titles free of charge,” says Bethan Rogers, a member of the Audience Development Team at Welsh Libraries, “Other members of my family have joined the library too and are downloading the magazines to their PCs and tablets. Libraries are an amazing free resource and we should all make more use of them.”

John Griffiths supported the digital launch in Novemeber. Image provided by Library Wales

John Griffiths supported the digital launch in Novemeber. Image provided by Library Wales

When is a library no longer a library?

There is a danger that libraries could lose their status as a portal for information if too much focus is dedicated to establishing libraries as social hubs. While it is important to encourage young people to enter the library, getting them to stay and interact is a harder task. “ They need to focus on taking part in their own projects,” says library user Calli Powell from Nottingham, “not just to turn up here and there.”

There is a balance to be struck between the traditional, and the modern and that it is what libraries are missing at the moment.  Younger people need an aspect that keeps people interested. Many libraries do offer services and meetings outside of the traditional loaning out of literature. But if you look at what they provide, knitting clubs, reading groups, story times for parents and young children, there is a significant gap in the age range targeted. The idea of silence in the library may need to change before young people are drawn back in, but it remains to be seen whether live music and fashion events will  be able to breath new life into libraries.