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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/libraries-taskforce-research-programme/libraries-taskforce-future-research-priorities
1. How we got here
Libraries Deliver: Ambition for Public Libraries in England, 2016 to 2021 talks about ensuring library service design and delivery is informed by evidence and data. One key source of evidence is from research, and that’s why we have Action 4 in the Ambition Action Plan. To:
Identify and commission any further research work needed to measure the 7 Outcomes to be used as a shared evidence base by all, connecting to other research frameworks or other sectors where relevant.
1.1 Mapping existing research
To start with this process, it was important to establish what research had already been done, was ongoing, or was planned to take place soon. Through some crowd-sourcing and a few workshops, the Libraries Taskforce team compiled a spreadsheet (see the ‘Instructions’ csv first for guidance on the definitions used in compiling the information). This also included some information on the changing policy landscape in England by way of context. The spreadsheet is updated monthly to include new research.
1.2 Identifying what else is needed
As part of this exercise, we asked people at the workshops what further research they thought would add value and what criteria we should use to prioritise future research ideas. This was then voted on via a survey where people could vote for the preferred prioritisation criteria and future research they’d like to see. The results from this survey and the workshops have been used to develop this list of future research priorities. The Taskforce will regularly monitor the priorities in order to take into account emerging ideas that arise.
1.3 A phased approached
The future research programme has been split into 2 phases, with phase 1 covering the higher priority projects the Libraries Taskforce will be seeking to progress first, subject to funding being available. We’re actively discussing with partners how the projects listed can be taken forward and will say more in future blogs when these are progressing.
We have included short summaries of the research projects have below. Please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to find out more or are interested in working with us on them.
2. Research prioritisation
The research projects included in Phase 1 were selected based on the criteria below. These were developed during the workshops and survey run by the Libraries Taskforce (March-May 2017).
Research projects were given a higher priority if they met more of the following criteria:
- Helps to make the case for building a sustainable service / maintains funding for library services
- Contributes to delivery of the overall vision set out in Libraries Deliver: Ambition
- Is unique, for example there is limited / no research already in that space
- Enables the building of a longitudinal dataset to monitor trends over time
- Supports emerging trends / reinforces a policy point we are trying to prove
- Will deliver a quick win (such as more practically achievable, easier to adopt the findings)
- Is easily researchable (for example there is a sound methodology that can be used)
- Where partners and networks already exist to support the research being carried out / delivering on the findings
- Is likely to attract funding
3. Phase 1
The phase 1 projects have been divided into 2 categories, whether they:
- contribute to demonstrating the impact of library services (based around the 7 Outcomes set out in Libraries Deliver: Ambition)
- support the delivery and operation of library services
3.1 Library impact
1. What factors contribute to social regeneration and how can libraries support those?
This is focused on Outcome 7: Stronger, more resilient communities and would look at factors including:
- supporting social integration
- supporting cultural change
- promoting social inclusion
It would also consider what makes a good agent for social change and the impact of social regeneration on adult social care and school readiness.
2. How does placemaking contribute to stronger, more resilient communities and what role can libraries play?
This is focused on Outcome 7: Stronger, more resilient communities. It would build on 2 recent publications by the Arts Council: Re-writing the story: the contribution of public libraries to place-shaping and Libraries as Community hubs: case studies and learning.
3. How can people’s health and wellbeing be improved and what role do libraries have to play in this?
This is focused on Outcome 5: Healthier and happier lives and would look at:
- reducing health care utilisation
- reducing health inequalities
- reducing social isolation
- improving mental health
- improving lifestyle health
This evaluation should be aimed at health commissioners and GP commissioners.
4. Independent evaluation of the Libraries: Opportunities for Everyone Innovation Fund projects
The Libraries: Opportunities for Everyone innovation fund projects are being delivered between April 2017 and March 2018. The independent evaluation of the projects will provide:
- an overview of activities undertaken by individual projects, highlighting the most major themes
- insights from practitioners on what was successful, what challenges were encountered, how these were overcome, and lessons and suggestions for delivery of similar projects in the future
- an understanding of the monitoring results obtained at a programme level, including outputs and outcomes.
This evaluation will be funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
5. How can skills and employment levels be increased through activity in libraries?
This is focused on Outcome 6: Greater prosperity and would look at:
- support to jobs seekers and career development support
- advice and support to help people start and grow businesses and create jobs
- access to skills training and lifelong learning
Work has already happened in this area (see the research spreadsheet for more details), for example, the British Libraries research into their Enterprising libraries: engines of innovation and economic growth. This piece of research is about identifying areas that need exploring further or activity in libraries which hasn’t been looked at yet.
6. A longitudinal study looking at contributory factors to a child’s literacy level
This would focus on the impact and effectiveness of library service literacy programmes in relation to other factors.
7. How can we reduce digital exclusion and what is the role of library services in supporting this?
This is focused on Outcome 3: Increased digital access and literacy and would look at:
- improving digital skills
- supporting people to access and use public services online
- access to computers and free wifi
3.2 Delivery and operation of library services
8. What are the main drivers and barriers in attracting, training, developing and retaining volunteers?
This would include consideration of the impact of volunteering on volunteers and the community as well as good practice from the use of volunteers in other sectors.
9. What works in driving increased visits / usage of library services?
This would include capturing good practice and may also cover experimentation / action learning as part of the research to try out new ideas.
10. What is the long-term sustainability of different delivery models?
This could include (as recommended in the SERIO research - due to be published shortly):
- additional investigation into independent libraries to fully understand and capture good practice on their operational models and methods of revenue generation
- further research into community managed libraries (building on the SERIO research)
11. What is the impact of closures and/or reduced opening hours of libraries on communities?
12. What is the impact and effectiveness of library service co-location with different services?
This would consider the variety of services libraries are co-located / integrated with including:
- higher education / further education
- Post Offices
- job centres
- other local authority services
4. Phase 2
Phase 2 covers other research items which could be addressed if funding allows [in no particular order].
4.1 Library impact
1. What enables growing readers and how can libraries support this?
Growing readers is enabling people to read more / be more confident and stronger readers.
This is focused on Outcome 2: Increased reading and literacy
2. What outcomes are achieved through children and families’ interactions with libraries?
This includes the role of libraries in supporting young parents
3. How can cultural and creative enrichment be achieved in communities and what do libraries do to support this?
This is focused on Outcome 1: Cultural and creative enrichment.
4. What (one consistent) approach should library services adopt to measure economic impact?
It was noted that a number of approaches existed. It was proposed to select one approach out of all the existing ones for everyone to use.
5. What is / should the role and impact of library services be in rural areas?
6. How should library services best reach different audiences [audience segmentation] and what is the impact of libraries across different demographics?
4.2 Delivery and operation of library services
7. Is it better to have ‘fewer but bigger’ vs. ‘more but smaller’ library buildings?
This would look at:
- whether there is any difference to the service provided to the community?
- what the measure(s) of success should be?
8. What is or should the role of libraries be in delivering partner services?
9. What is the USP of libraries vs. other deliverers?
This is to emphasise why we believe ‘libraries first’ is so important
10. Good practice in conducting research to best influence key audiences
11. What is good practice in designing libraries?
This would look at existing research and good practice on designing libraries including looking at:
- improving the customer experience
- impact of design on user behaviour
One output would be creating good practice guidance to be used by the library sector to inform future library design.
12. Track usage and attitudes to e-lending over time
This would provide an update on research commissioned by the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) and the Publishers Association as part of their pilot work on e-lending. It would monitor attitudes to, and usage of, e-lending to understand whether / why changes have occurred.