British libraries might be getting a very Starbucks-esque makeover soon. According to the recommendations from the recently released Independent Library Report for England, the key to saving libraries might be to add coffee shop-like amenities, including free WiFi, a comfortable environment, and beverages. Although I am a much bigger fan of libraries than I am of coffee shops, I have to admit that this does sound like a solid plan.
The report comes amidst what some are calling a crisis for libraries in the U.K. Library use is down 50 percent since 1997 and more than 300 libraries have closed since 2011. “We’re at a critical moment for the libraries and if we’re not careful we could lose so many,” William Sieghart, who authored the report told The Independent. “I and a lot of people think it would be an absolute disaster.”
The report includes several recommendations, like increasing community involvement in library management and the creation of a library task force to help improve national standards, but the biggest theme of the report seems to be the need to modernize. After all, as stated in the report, a third of libraries in the country don't have WiFi — which in the modern world pretty much rules them out as a space to spend a significant amount of time. The authors of the report also recommend allowing library users to check out e-books and modernizing and standardizing library services in order to implement things like a universal library card that can be used throughout the country.
Hopefully the government, who commissioned the report, will pay attention to its recommendations. Because libraries are important.
As we get ever deeper into the digital age, the need for libraries hasn't gone away — in fact, we may be more in need of the context and structure that libraries and librarians can provide than ever, now that we have access to so much free-floating, contextless information online. But in order for libraries to stay relevant and useful in a modern day, they need to adapt to the world we're all living in.
The good news, though, is that these sorts of reforms can work. Here in the U.S. where free WiFi and even e-book lending are standard features for most libraries, Millennials use libraries just as much as their parents. It's not hard to see why — a place with free WiFi, comfy couches, and that great book smell where you can stay all day if you want without having to buy anything or ever being asked to leave? Libraries are like paradise.
So, although our friends across the pond sometimes give Americans the shifty eye, on this particular point, we may be getting something right. After all, libraries deserve to be the best they can be.