The public library is a cultural institution that is popular across all social and age groups, making it an important component in social integration and in tackling social issues in literacy and basic education. It has a special social task of strengthening social cohesion by teaching media competence and a sense of digital responsibility. Moreover, public libraries facilitate interchange, cooperation, community building, and learning, as well as identification with the local community.
However, despite their high relevance in terms of digital and social participation, community, and empowerment, public libraries continue to have a weak recognition on a European level. And, it was with this goal in mind that the Partnership for Culture/Cultural Heritage dedicated one of its actions to achieving a broader perception of public libraries in European policies, legislations and instruments.
The primary aim of Action 5 is to promote awareness about public libraries and their role in effective social urban development on the European and national level. The objective is to involve public libraries in European policies, programmes and initiatives, as well as assist them – not only financially – to be contact points for the entire European society and key institutions for democratic participation.
What is being done
To create better visibility for public libraries, the Partnership published a questionnaire addressed at all national public library associations and national authorities focussed on public libraries in European countries. The survey's goal was to gain a better understanding of public library resources and to identify areas where EU funding might be needed to supplement existing programmes. This study also served as the foundation for the creation of a paper outlining suggestions for European action on public libraries.
In addition, the Partnership has also commissioned an external expert assessment on the role of libraries on the European Agenda. The report begins by considering social issues, which European public libraries may be of assistance. In light of these difficulties, the study then provides an overview of relevant EU programs, policies, and efforts at the European Commission, European Parliament, and Council of the EU. Finally, it examines where public libraries contribute significantly, where their potential is underutilised.
Public libraries have huge potential to contribute to EU objectives. Libraries provide free access to information and are ideally positioned to take the lead in linking citizens to one another and to cross-cutting European issues. Action 5 will continue to raise the importance of public libraries for sustainable social urban development, as well as provide recommendations to the European level on how to include public libraries in its policies and programmes.