Amazon tie-up considered in library service revamp

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The Independent Culture

DVD-style home deliveries and tie-ups with internet firms such as Amazon could be the answer to ensure the future of libraries for the iPod generation, Culture Minister Margaret Hodge said today.

A review of library services is under way and is expected to contain radical proposals to address modern book consumption and tackle the diminishing usage around the UK.



Speaking to the Public Library Association conference in Bristol today she outlined some of the methods which are expected to appear in a consultation document shortly, including internet lending services and loyalty cards with free offers.



"I'm all in favour of pushing our thinking to the boundaries and testing ideas to destruction and, yes, I am thinking about how LoveFilm or Amazon work. What is it about their way of doing things that generates such popularity, wide usage, such customer delight and satisfaction?" said Mrs Hodge today.



She said ensuring services were well-used would mean libraries were able to make a better case for their own survival when difficult financial decisions had to be made.



"In a nutshell, this is all about getting whatever the library equivalent might be for 'bums on seats'. If we make our service popular; if we ensure it is well and widely used, it will be much more difficult to chop it when times are tough.



"We need to offer young people something new and distinctive. You're absolutely right to get cross when politicians like me deal in stereotypes of the libraries of our own childhoods, and ignore all the great work that does go on. But the stats tell us that we have to do still more and that the technological revolution has to be at the heart of how we get there."



Her speech comes just days after Amazon bosses predicted that sales of ebooks would ultimately outstrip physical versions.



Outlining some of the proposals Mrs Hodge said libraries could "sell as well as borrow".



"How about a tie in with Amazon? You've borrowed the book, now send a brand new copy to a friend," said Mrs Hodge.



She continued: "A loyalty card that rewards every ten book loans with a free DVD hire; an internet lending service where you order a book online and pay a small fee to have it delivered to your home, with a reply-paid address label."



A further proposal would be to issue library tickets to "every new born baby to last them through life".



Mrs Hodge pointed to research which showed book borrowing at libraries had fallen by 41% across the past decade, while investment in libraries had gone up by 50% in the same period.



"I can promise you that the Government remains committed to a strong and modern public library service with local need as the number one driver."



Mrs Hodge had been expected to be delivering the review by the time she spoke at today's conference but she said she wanted "a little time to develop and bring in some of the thoughts I have" on how to modernise libraries. She is still settling into her role as Culture Minister after returning last month after a year of compassionate leave during which she was caring for her late husband.

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