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Overdrive CEO, Steve Potash, makes the case for public libraries

14 January 2020  
Overdrive founder and CEO, Steve Potash makes the case for Public Libraries

Steve Potash, Lord John Bird, Bobby Seagull, Johanna Brinton Abela and Erica Lazzaro at the launch of Public Libraries: The Case for Support

Overdrive founder and CEO, Steve Potash, makes the case for Public Libraries

We are thankful for the leadership and initiative of Lord John Bird and the Big Issue, Nick Poole from CILIP, and all the supporting agencies that produced the findings in Public Libraries: The Case for Support. Their guidance in developing this significant report is instrumental in elevating the conversation surrounding the importance of libraries and the value they serve in local communities. This includes economic growth, supporting a diverse audience, and contributing to the personal development of their service population. It is critical that the issues in Public Libraries: The Case for Support are being brought to the forefront of public dialogue. Furthermore, while the concerns presented in Public Libraries: The Case for Support are designed to garner support for public libraries in the UK, the issues presented have worldwide reach. Communities all around the world benefit from libraries and the work of the librarians who aid economic advancement in their cities, provide services for large and diverse audiences, and empower their users.

In our work with the American Library Association, we know libraries in the United States contribute to economic development, with studies showing that every $1 in governmental funding for libraries returns $4 to the community at large. As Public Libraries: The Case for Support highlights, the same is true for libraries in the UK where the return is between £5 and £7 for every £1 invested in public libraries. We can’t ignore an economic lift of that level, and I urge everyone to consider an investment in libraries as an investment in the United Kingdom as a whole. Just like in the USA, UK public libraries are the cornerstone of every community and one of the few available public services that reach an extensive and diverse audience. Every year, public libraries in the UK see 200 million citizens come through their doors with an additional 90 million utilising online resources. UK library users span several demographic identities, particularly when it comes to race. Figures included in Public Libraries: The Case for Support show 47 per cent of library users in England identify as being from Black, Asian, or Ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds. Still, not all members of a community can physically visit a location and take advantage of the library’s offerings. According to data from Public Libraries: The Case for Support, reductions in transportation have mirrored a decline in library usage. It is therefore paramount that public libraries have funding to create a strong and sustainable online presence that incorporates a variety of digital resources, so all members have access, not just those who can visit in-person.

Another important service public libraries provide is their role in facilitating personal development. Libraries empower users and key findings in Public Libraries: The Case for Support suggests that the public library encourages health and happiness among users. Along with education and informal learning, libraries assist users in improving skills beyond traditional knowledge, such as making informed health decisions, cultivating digital competency, and strengthening financial literacy. As the Public Libraries: The Case for Support indicates, 2019 marks exactly 100 years since the death of industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. While America has adopted Carnegie as one of our own and we have many Carnegie-funded libraries still in operation, Carnegie was born in Scotland and chose his home country as the location for the first-ever Carnegie Library. When it opened in 1883 in Dunfermline, Carnegie’s library changed the trajectory of libraries, making them widely available for public consumption. No longer were books, manuscripts, and texts kept under lock and key and reserved only for those who had the financial means to access them. I believe that right now, the world is on the precipice of a similar renaissance. These are difficult times for libraries, yes, but as the Public Libraries: The Case for Support illustrates, there is hope, and it can be found in younger generations. Studies identify teens and those in their twenties as the most frequent users of public libraries. This is the key demographic that will continue to advocate for access and resources in future years. But that isn’t enough. Libraries cannot exist and function without the support of the government, and right now, not everyone in positions of power understands the true value of public libraries. I encourage all politicians to read the Public Libraries: The Case for Support to see why they need the support. This is an opportunity to once again change the trajectory for libraries, so they are available for all future generations of readers. To learn more about OverDrive, visit and read Public Libraries: The Case for Support.

Contributor: Information Professional

Published: 14 January 2020

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