As digital reading trends move ever-faster, a special event held on 17 January addressed the urgent need for libraries to embrace new technologies in order to take their vital support for readers online.
The event, held at Southwark's Canada Water Library, was organised by The Publishers Association and ourselves. It showcased the work of six teams of publishers and librarians from around the country who have been working together on using new digital approaches in a ten month-long digital skills sharing project.
The skills sharing teams shared their highlights, challenges and learning. Examples of the innovative work outlined at the event included work by Raintree and Faber & Faber with Halton Borough Council and Lancashire County Council library services co-creating a project where librarians worked with local families, establishing them as champions for their favourite books and authors. The Reading Families' selections were presented via libraries' online channels, including their website, Facebook page, Twitter and Pinterest profiles, encouraging a wider community of local readers to connect with books recommended by their peers.
Meanwhile Pan Macmillan, Headline and Canongate helped South Tyneside libraries explore ways of engaging young people online. For the launch of South Tyneside's first-ever Facebook page, the team worked with three local comprehensives, offering students free copies of Wildwood by Colin Meloy, Ember Fury by Cathy Brett and What's Up with Jody Barton by Hayley Long, and encouraging them to post reviews and engage in discussions about the books online. Author Cathy Brett thrilled the students by posting replies to students' reviews, and Canongate also harnessed creativity with a competition to design a new character for Wildwood, with entries also posted on the Facebook page.
A full, final project report will be available in February, but part of this digital skills sharing project has involved master classes and the injection of cutting edge thinking from digital innovators. Today's event's keynote speech on 'Digital Public Spaces' was delivered by journalist and commentator Bill Thompson. He argued that his library-influenced ability to read and to think deeply about text was what allowed him to operate successfully across all the ever-developing digital channels, and said that the challenge now for libraries, which had always offered access to "the private spaces of readers' minds", was to navigate occupation of new, liminal online spaces and, within them, how to continue to help readers find ways into texts.
The new resources and skills gained from this project will enable library authorities across the country to benefit from publisher expertise in the creation and strengthening of libraries' digital marketing. The project - which was funded by the Arts Council England Library Development Initiative. Together with The Publishers' Association, we have overseen the project, utilising our Reading Partners consortium, which brings publishers and library services together to create successful and exciting events and activities for readers.
At today's event, our director Miranda McKearney OBE announced an online digital marketing resource, sharing the learning. This resources site is open to everyone at readingagency.org.uk/digitalskills. It features blogs, interviews and videos by librarians, publishers and other experts on digital platforms and opportunities. These include master classes available to librarians for daily use, such as The Guardian's Claire Armistead presenting on how to engage young people online, and Nicki Sprinz of Made by Many demonstrating the enormous possibilities of using Skype for events.
The event also included a panel discussion on Compelling Reader Experiences in the Library of the Future with Stephen Page, CEO Faber and Faber; Liz McGettigan, Libraries and Information Services Manager at City of Edinburgh Council; Nick Stopforth, Head of Doncaster Libraries; and keynote speaker Bill Thompson.
The panel recognised that the 'hybrid library' which combined physical venues and human contact with digital presence and services was already well-established. They saw the need for combined 'big thinking' to position libraries as the most-trusted portals for digital information, and to make them 'extraordinary emporia' for material of all genres - especially as spaces dedicated to music, books and films etc disappear from our high streets - where exciting online and offline cultural conversations start. There was also agreement on how much libraries have to offer communities in terms of accessing information and cultural experiences, because they are free and accessible and inclusive, with a need to focus on existing best practice and innovation, not a narrative of only cuts and closures.
Richard Mollet, CEO, The Publishers Association says: "We are really pleased to have led the digital skills sharing project. It has provided a unique opportunity for publishers to gain an improved understanding of the role of libraries and the engagement with their readers in the digital era. Working closely with libraries and sharing skills and experiences will allow publishers and libraries to develop new ways to reach new audiences".
Miranda McKearney, our director, says: "The dizzying pace of digital change offers libraries big challenges and equally big opportunities to develop their support for reading. The digital skills sharing programme has shown just how much libraries are up for new ways of working to achieve their mission. Once we've gathered the learning together, The Reading Agency will develop a training programme to respond to what libraries are telling us they need to create the powerful blend of online and offline reading experiences that will be vital to a compelling offer to an increasingly sophisticated audience."
Nicky Morgan, director of libraries, Arts Council England, says: "Digital technology is a growing trend that has transformed, and will continue to transform, the role that libraries play. This project has been a valuable tool for libraries and publishers to work together and share best practice in the use of digital technology.
"Our research into what the library of the future could and should look like, 'Envisioning the Library of the Future', will be published in Spring 2013, and recognises that this agenda is at the heart of what libraries in the 21st century will deliver. We will therefore work closely with key partners going forward to ensure that our libraries adapt to innovations in technology, and that libraries are best fit to serve the needs of their communities."
She announced that, due to the success of the digital skills sharing project, its work will now be included as a case study in Envisioning the Library of the Future, to show how envisioning can be brought to life. She added: "You have shown that libraries have something to offer alongside commercial outfits in the digital field. Your work will be contributing to the modernising of library services in the 21st century."
The Twitter hashtag for this event is: #digiskills