Knowledge Matters blog

Behind the scenes at the British Library

09 January 2023

LibraryOn: researching collaborations between public and university libraries

Every year the British Library offers a number of PhD research placements and in this blog Suzy Lawrence, a PhD Placement Researcher, shares her research insights and recommendations. In June, Suzy started her placement as part of the LibraryOn team to explore existing collaborations between university and public libraries across the UK.

Library-on logoLibraryOn is the new name for the Single Digital Presence, an online platform led by the British Library and funded by Arts Council England that will connect people with their local libraries and celebrate what public libraries offer (see LibraryOn). This research has explored options for the future by considering how LibraryOn might help to bring university and public libraries closer together for the benefit of their users.

Benefits of collaboration

It was clear from the beginning of the placement that the term ‘collaboration’ is used very broadly to cover a wide range of joint activities. In the library sector, these can vary from skill sharing groups, to cooperative single projects and campaigns, to allowing ongoing access to each other’s library spaces and books, to fully collaborative joint library spaces, such as The Hive in Worcester.

As part of the research, a wide range of librarians from different libraries were consulted, many of whom had been involved in such projects. It was striking how helpful everyone was and how generous with their time. Such conversations also revealed a widely held belief that working together across the library sector can bring real benefits for everyone involved.

For public libraries, the benefits include the opportunity to share resources, such as skills, personnel and physical space. There is also a desire to broaden the user base of public libraries and to increase footfall, particularly among teenagers and people in their twenties who are not frequent library users.

For university libraries, the opportunity to share resources also appeals but an equally important motivation is the desire to connect with local communities and to allow access to knowledge on a more equitable basis.

Hive-image1The Hive in Worcester, a notable example of a fully collaborative joint library space.

Barriers to collaboration

While there are many motivations that bring public and university libraries together, there are also some barriers that can prevent collaborations from taking place.

One of the most important is that while public libraries aim to serve the general community, university libraries have to prioritise their student body. This different focus can make it hard to find a project that benefits all the users of both libraries.

Other issues include the different resources available to public and university libraries, which can make it hard to form equal partnerships, and the surprising difficulty in finding the right person to contact at each organisation.

How can LibraryOn help?

Whilst LibraryOn is currently focused on public libraries, the team is conscious of the wider library ecosystem and how LibraryOn might be able to support greater connections within it. As a communicative and connective space, there is great potential in the future for LibraryOn to help bring different libraries together – whether that be to share resources, ideas, skills or technology – which could then lead on to further collaborative projects outside of the platform.

In addition, the ultimate aim of the work is to increase usage of public libraries, and helping to develop collaborations with other types of libraries is certainly a promising way to do so.

Interested in hearing more? Sign up to LibraryOn newsletter to receive updates on the project by emailing the team at [email protected]

Visit British Library PhD Placement Scheme for more detail about PhD placement opportunities.

Suzy Lawrence

LibraryOn PhD Placement Researcher