Libraries – catalysts for change ! Our libraries are untapped goldmines for communities in the post-pandemic road to recovery! The public library is still widely and globally recognised as a catalyst for change, facilitating social, economic and cultural development. They will undoubtedly be crucial to powering the local innovation, upskilling, learning and development we will so need post-pandemic.
We will all need to learn and relearn more than ever and who but the public library is best placed to work with Joe Public on this? Properly funded libraries, already located in towns and cities across the country, with free wifi and access to technology must surely be the first obvious step on a plan to stimulate innovation, reinvent learning, media literacy and digital skills?
Their reassuring presence at the heart of all of our towns and cities sends the signal that everyone—whoever they are, whatever their educational background, whatever their age or their needs that the door to change and a better life is open. They are uniquely placed to return the word “trust” to information.
Libraries have had many champions over the years – as they should! Many have seen the public library as key role in their journey to fame or positon. Here are just a very few of them who believe that access to reading, resources and information can underpin social mobility and self-enrichment.
‘Going to the library changed my life. It may even have saved it. They’re a free ticket to the entire earth, an entry to conversations you wouldn’t be privy to otherwise”
Jimmy Reid went from poverty in Govan, to become one of the most important figures of 20th century Britain. When he was made Rector of the University of Glasgow and “pompous” academics asked which university he attended, Reid would reply: “Govan Library”
He left school at 14 and despite leaving school with the minimum education possible, Reid went on to become one of the most talented political figures, orators, political thinkers and political leaders in British politics. He was fascinated by politics, reading about it constantly and studying political texts in the local library.
Sir Alex Ferguson as always astonished at Reid’s knowledge and said at Reid’s funeral:
“Our education was football, his education was the Govan library. He was never out of there.”Public libraries are often considered “the people’s university”.
The public library moulded Reid, provided an education like no other and helped him develop an intellect which Michael Parkinson described as “formidable”
Reid personified the public library mission of education and lifelong learning available to all, regardless of age, skill level, or ability to pay.
“When I was a little girl, I’d walk to our local library every two weeks and take out as many books as I could carry in my arms,”
At an ALA conference Jill Biden said that literature changed her life. She recalled how, as a college student, she encountered young people who couldn’t read. Biden stressed the importance of learning for youth and how it helps kids grow into kind, compassionate people. She said that libraries and librarians are instrumental to that growth.
“In big cities and small towns, libraries fulfill a purpose that almost nothing else does. They’re a place of information for all; a place where people can come together as a community. It’s the aisles of books, the knowledge of generations collected and open to anyone. In a world where this is so much information to wade through, you help students develop their critical thinking skills.”
Libraries – catalysts for change – Keith Richards
Today that learning is often via technology. The People’s Network project was the first ever government tech project to come in on time and on budget.
We put internet and wi-fi into every library and became the go-to people for free internet access offering sessions to upskill our communities. As we once enabled social mobility through literacy and access to books, digital technology became equally key to our role. Libraries always rise to the occasion and morphed to improve and create life chances, digitally upskilling people to increase their employability.
Libraries are not only about lending books, they know people they know people want to touch, interact, contribute and experience in buzzing, interactive and creative spaces.
In the post covid world libraries will be that accelerator for upskilling, digital literacy and inclusion, an enabler of digital citizenship and the go to place to experience and access digital content.
Let’s not try to reinvent the wheel! Invest in our fabulous existing network of streetcorner universities.