Letter: Booking a future role for Britain's public libraries

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The Independent Online
Sir: I read with interest your leading article (2 March) commenting on the unpopularity and decline of public library book borrowing which contrasts sharply with the rise in book sales.

In my own authority, Bromley in south London, we have for the past year been conducting a pilot project at six of the borough's libraries which has successfully reversed the downward trend in library issues and maintained their popularity as a source of reading. Issues over a 12-month period have risen at these libraries by more than 14 per cent.

We have achieved this by learning from the presentational styles adopted by our colleagues in the book trade. We have rearranged library layouts to group linked subjects together to encourage browsing and fuller subject appreciation; imported bookshop display bins to promote particular authors or subjects; circulated quality stock collections (eg poetry, art books) to libraries which rarely see such titles in any depth; and significantly increased the number and range of titles in paperback, which are twice as popular with customers as the identical hardback title.

The public response has been very positive and the success of the initiative has been further acknowledged by the Government awarding the library service a Charter Mark last September.

I strongly believe that public libraries can be popular and successful once again. We do, however, have to recognise that the traditional style of stock presentation with rows of books in author/Dewey order (designed to deliver a particular title to a particular reader) is no longer so relevant for today's potential library user.

Yours sincerely,

BARRY WALKINSHAW

Chief Librarian, Central Library

Bromley, Kent

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