Envisioning libraries of the future

    This exciting project was commissioned by Arts Council England in 2012, and was our second major collaboration with Ipsos MORI. The study began with an evidence review of major societal, economic and technological trends that might impact on the future of the library service, which drew heavily on Ipsos MORI’s own extensive evidence base. This was the basis for a Delphi Enquiry with over 200 invited library practitioners and experts in related fields to understand whether and how those individuals believed these trends would impact on libraries in the coming decade. This in turn enabled us to construct a set of scenarios which we presented, along with a review of innovation in public libraries, at series of open space workshops with library sector stakeholders including librarians, local politicians, educators, and library campaigners.

    Our main findings highlight the major threats to libraries (seismic shifts in how we access information and reading, public spending cuts, and gaps in leadership capacity), and also their enormous potential, as proven by our best libraries, to bridge the digital divide, increase opportunity through access to books and knowledge, and support wider shifts from knowledge consumption to knowledge creation and from reliance to resilience.

    Throughout the study we stimulated an ongoing public debate about libraries via an online conversation designed to widen debate and create more opportunities for participation. The website received 13,000 visits from the UK and around the world.

    Since we completed this work, Ben Lee from Shared Intelligence has spoken many times about the implications of the Envisioning project for individual library services and about the critical task they have to articulate their social purpose more clearly. See his presentations to the RSA’s 2020 Public Service Trust here and to the Society of Chief Librarians here.

    Client: Arts Council England


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