Rural library services in England: exploring recent changes and possible futures

Thursday 4 September 2014

In recent years, public library services have undergone – and continue to undergo – a huge amount of change. That change has been felt across library services, but due to their limited size and lower footfall, rural libraries have been placed under particular pressure and have gone through some of the most radical changes in the way they are operated. Commissioned by Defra and Arts Council England. Following the 2013 reports Envisioning the Library of the Future and Community libraries: Learning from Experience, this research explores what the experience has been – and could be in future – for rural libraries specifically. The research comprised:

  • A rapid evidence assessment of 30 of the most recent documents relevant to rural libraries in England
  • Action learning with a carefully selected sample of eight rural areas to explore the nature of local service changes and new approaches to delivery.

The general conclusions are positive, highlighting that rural communities face specific challenges and opportunities but have rallied around to improve and expand library services.  Building on this, the most successful and sustainable rural libraries will contribute to a range of local outcomes, attract income and provide access to many different services and activities, otherwise missing in many rural areas, if local authorities plan strategically.