Viewpoint: Do we still need libraries?

Sue Charteris: “Those that need it most are the ones that don’t know they need it”

Across the UK budget cuts have forced the pace of thinking about the role of libraries in the 21st Century society.  The financial context and huge progressions in technology mean that there is no escape from the need for a redesign of this service.

Sue Charteris, who led the Wirral Libraries Inquiry in 2009, and current Chair of The Reader Organisation, will take part in the University’s Policy Provocations series to discuss her views on the role libraries can play in the future. 

Sue argues that although the core purpose of libraries – giving universal access to a world of learning and ideas through books and reading – has not changed since the its inception in 1850, it is now time to rethink the service they provide.

Sue explains:  “The major challenge faced by libraries is not whether we still need them, but how, in the context of there being less money, we reach those people who are not using the service. Those that need it most are the ones that don’t know they need it.

“UNESCO reported that reading for pleasure is the single best indicator of social mobility, yet the UK is currently rated 47th out of 65 nations when it comes to young people reading for pleasure.

“It is clear that many people, not just young people, in our society are lacking a relationship with books and reading. The Reader Organisation’s projects clearly demonstrate how beneficial having this relationship is by way of social, educational, health and emotional impact.

“Libraries are key to making more of these relationships happen by extending their reach into communities but if they are to be successful for those that need it most, then a new model is needed. This will be achieved through a combination of forward-thinking new partnerships with community members and organisations providing services to those communities.

“The concept of a ‘good’ library service for the 21st Century should, in my opinion, be focused around building relationships with people and include, for example, excellent IT facilitates open 24/7 and a quality information and innovation hub that provides expert advice on books, as well as information on starting your own business, health and wellbeing, and what services are available locally.  It should also be a welcoming and beautiful space to learn, read, create, and engage. 

“If we are really worried about the lack of opportunities for young people, especially in our most deprived communities, then we need a new kick start. I believe that libraries, working in partnership with communities and organisations operating within those communities, can offer an exciting, engaging and distinctive new model to do this.”

‘Policy Provocations:  Do we still need libraries?’ takes place at 5.30pm on Wednesday, 16 May at The Florrie, Toxteth.  To book a free ticket visit: or call 0151 794 2650

One thought on “Viewpoint: Do we still need libraries?

  1. stuwystv

    Delighted to attend this event at The Florrie next week – at last a nationally significant libraries debate in my home town!

    I’m hopeful, nay certain, that Ms Charteris and the rest of the speakers will explore ALL the potential solutions to the end goal of creating “libraries, working in partnership with communities and organisations operating within those communities”.

    Looking forward to it.

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