Thursday, 7 February 2008

Culture, creativity and research

Dame Lynne Brindley of the British Library came to Sheffield yesterday to deliver the Firth Lecture at the Univerity of Sheffield.

The title of her talk was Culture, Creativity and Research and she looked at how the British Library as a publicly funded cultural institution supports the creative industries.

Lynne began by outlining the importance of creative industries to the British economy. They employ 1.1 million people and contribute £60 billion to the UK economy - and these figures are likely to rise. She explored the concept of Knowledge Transfer as it applies to the creative industries, pointing out that there were differences from the science & technology model. Creative industries require a social architecture or a cultural ecology within which they can operate and draw on for information and inspiration. The BL has three core role; a resource for research; to underpin business and enterprise through the Business and Intelectual Property centre and as a cultural institution. Web 2.0 developments in particular have enabled the BL to provide a different Knowledge Transfer model for the creative industries which is social not linear and combines these three roles. Writers, artists, designers and other creative people have used the BL to support the creative process and to turn this creativity into business success.

Lynne then moved on to copyright stressing that there needed to be a balance between the protection given to the creative industries and the need for fair use exceptions to allow people to access and make use of this material.

The talk was a powerful argument for the importance and value of a publicly funded national library and it seems to me that with a few changes it could stand as an argument for public libraries in general. I am sure that the knowledge transfer model that Lynne described operates in our major public libraries as well. I suspect that the other roles of public libraries - e.g. lending books for general reading and as access points to the Internet via the Peoples Network - although valuable in themselves, do tend to mask and dilute this role so that the economic contribution of public libraries is harder to quantify and therefore not recognised by the funders and decision makers. Public libraries have always suffered from the lack of a champion who can speak on their behalf. Where is the public library "chief executive" who can speak on behalf of all libraries with the authority of a Lynne Brindley?


Tim Zijlstra said...

Though I was intrigued by the arguments brought forward by Dame Brindley, I did wonder about the validity of her point. Statements like: we provide 4,5 times our yearly budget back to the economy seem to come from thin air. But maybe I am just too cynical!

Good description though, and thanks for the link Tara!

Carl said...

Hi Tim
Yes, much too cynical!! This statement was based on the BL report Increasing our value []
This used a technique known as Contingent valuation to show how the Library adds value to the UK economy by asking users questions such as "How much would you be willing to pay for the Library's continued existence?" and "What is the minimum payment you would be willing to accept to forgo the Library's existence?" The report claimed that the BL generated £363m value for the UK economy per year - £4.40 for every £1 of public investment. You can argue with the methodology of course but it does try to put a value on something that is intangible. It would be good if every library could do this but the research is expensive.

Tim Zijlstra said...

Hi Carl,

The link is much appreciated, thanks. I understand the desire to measure the validity of investment in any public service, however when that public service exists to fulfill a legal requirement that need is perhaps not as large? Does anybody want to measure the validity of investment in the courts of justice or fire stations?

What I worry about when finding a measurement sufficient for this area, the tool devised can also be used as a means to close down the service on the grounds that the public investment is not creating enough 'interest'.

But I have to admit that the statement did not come from thin air!