With the new building Oldham is providing a library service of high quality that is meeting the needs of the local community. The library is well stocked with what appears to be a good selection of new books. I don't know if Tim Coates has run his critical eyes over the library but it appears to provide a good selection of fiction and non-fiction as well as 90 PCs for public use. The building has good access for people with disabilities and appears to be well used by all sections of Oldhams diverse population. No doubt Tim and others would argue that the money spent on the building should have been spent on more books but libraries are more than a storage space for books. Communities deserve high quality public spaces and a building like this draws more people into contact with the books and other resources.
In an article in Managing Information Adrian Olsen and Frances Hendrix (formerly of the Laser Foundation) ask where should public libraries go next? (MI Sept 2007 p32-3). Oldham could well provide part of the answer. Olsen and Hendrix propose four themes that should form the basis of a national strategy for public libraries.
- A re-organisation of the governance and finance of libraries at a government and possibly also at a local level. Responsibility for libraries is split and public libraries are at the mercy of individual council political priorities and financial pressure. Oldham shows what can be achieved but it also highlights inadequate provision in many other areas. The authors propose taking public libraries out of local authority control into some kind of regional organisation or even a National Public Library Service.
- A system is needed to ensure that the best in public libraries automatically becomes the norm across the whole service. Again, this requires a National Development Agency.
- There must be a national, co-ordinated campaign of publicity and awareness raising to inform people about what is available in their libraries and to challenge the traditional view of libraries. Publicising flagship libraries like Oldham could be a part of this. There is nothing like making people jelous of their neigbours to create pressure for change.
- PR and advocacy must be aimed at the 'movers and shakers'- the power brokers and decision makers.
New and refurbished libraries such as the Information Commons and Oldham Library can shift perceptions of what libraries are all about and as a profession we should study these examples and publicise them to a wider audience.