Reinventing Local Public Libraries

Carillion plc and the University of Sheffield set out to re-think local public libraries, identify the requirements of a Library Management System (LMS) capable of delivering the library of the future, and identify further opportunities for collaboration between Carillion and experts at the University of Sheffield.

The aim of this project was to undertake research that would enable Carillion plc and the University of Sheffield to re-think local public libraries, identify the requirements of a Library Management System (LMS) capable of delivering the library of the future, and identify further opportunities for collaboration between Carillion and experts at the University of Sheffield.chethams_library_interior-cropped

Please note that this project did not concern itself with issues relating to how local libraries are run, funded or resourced. We recognised that these are critical issues in the local public library sector, and we recognised that they would have a direct impact on the library of the future, but they were out of the scope of this particular project. As such, we did not express any views on these issues.

Carillion plc is one of the UK’s leading integrated support services companies that includes a substantial portfolio of Public Private Partnership projects. It employs 40,000 people worldwide and has annual revenues of more than 4 billion pounds. Carillion plc has a not-for-profit subsidiary called Cultural Community Solutions Ltd. Cultural Community Solutions Ltd manages library services on behalf of four local authorities: Croydon, Ealing, Harrow and Hounslow. Carillion has a plan to extend the operations of CCS Ltd to other local authority library services across London and the UK.

Carillion is looking to transform and re-energise the concept of local public libraries, addressing the widely held beliefs that local public libraries are under-used, under threat and failing to remain relevant to the communities that they are intended to serve. Carillion’s mission is to re-think and re-invent local public libraries to make them relevant and self-sustaining. It is now looking to build strategic partnerships with experts at the UNiversity of Sheffield in order to strengthen its public library offer and to support development and innovation of that offer over the next 5-10 years. Carillion hopes that such a partnership will provide it with access to knowledge, expertise and innovation in cognate areas of research and practice: e.g. cultures of the book and reading, library management, public engagement (public access to new knowledge) and digital humanities (new tech).

The current project explored how local public libraries might develop in the future in terms of their role within society, the content and technologies they provide access to, the activities that take place within them, the audiences they address and the technical and business processes that are required to enable all of this. The purpose of the project was not to recycle the existing views (both positive and negative) about the future of libraries. Local public libraries are existentially different to national libraries, university libraries and private libraries. As physical spaces they are not necessarily just about books and the reading public. For example, they could be the spaces in which small businesses and citizens discover, interact with and market test the very latest knowledge technologies; or they could be hubs for the very latest self-learning techniques (e.g. MOOC hubs). Clearly the Library Management System needed to drive these types of services will be very different to the market’s existing LMS offer.

Using a combination of desk-based research and cross-faculty ‘futurism’ workshops, this project identified what local public libraries might be in the future, identified the functional requirements of a new Library Management System that could underpin them, and identified the best business model for Sheffield and its partner, Carillion plc, to develop and exploit the LMS.

The project attracted interest from key stakeholders in the sector: the National Library Task Force, DCMS, Cabinet Office, Society of Chief Librarians, and the Reading Agency.

The outcomes of the project were: a) a white paper describing the potential roles and activities for local public libraries; b) a technical specification for a Library Management System; and c) a business case that sets out what the longer-term research and commercial opportunities of co-developing and exploiting a Library Management System might be. These outcomes were accessible to Carillion only.

Image Credits: One of the aisles inside Chetham’s Library, in Manchester. Chetham’s is the oldest free public reference library in the United Kingdom. This image is owned by Parrot of Doom and reproduced using the licence Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

Project Team

  • Michael Pidd (Principal Investigator – The Digital Humanities Institute)
  • Neil Simpson (Director, Local Authorities – Carillion)
  • Fiona Tarn (Libraries Development Manager – Carillion)