Public libraries and friends of the library groups : the influence of friends groups on public library policy
This study examines the influence of Friends groups on public library policy in the UK, in order to investigate ways of involving Friends groups in library policymaking. The methodology of a grounded theory, and a semi-structured interview method, were used for the study. Fifty interviews were carried out with Friends group members, library staff and managers, and councillors in five councils in England. There were more respondents who agreed than disagreed with Friends groups being allowed to influence library policy. The present groups have influenced many policy areas, such as policy on opening hours, decisions on library closure and building a new library, and library rules and regulations. They have exerted an influence on these areas mainly through campaigns or lobbying. However, there were also respondents who had personal concerns about the strong influence of Friends groups, particularly through these activities. They did not approve of these activities as being the ideal method of Friends groups to get involved in library policy. This is because these activities caused conflicts between Friends groups and library authorities or councillors. The respondents who had many experiences of such conflicts perceived Friends groups to be unrepresentative of library users and the community. Influential groups, which had an impact on library policy, were born as influential groups. They were formed with unique managerial elements, such as simple and clear goals, spontaneous establishment, strong leadership, a well-structured and active committee, and strong membership power, i.e. having many professionals and famous people as their members, such as politicians, artists, writers, and celebrities. The majority of the respondents agreed with the establishment of a British National Friends of Libraries organisation (NFOL), and considered its role in enhancing the operation of Friends groups, in supporting library services, and in campaigning to the government. However, many respondents did not recognise the fact that the Library Campaign (LC) had become a new' British NFOL, and many group members did not have much information about the LC. Consequently, the study suggests that the LC publicise itself more actively and that Cilip support the publicity of the LC. The study revealed that consultation is the most sensible method of getting Friends groups involved in library policy. Accordingly, the study suggests that Friends groups, library management, and councillors make guidelines for consultation. The study concludes that Friends groups could successfully operate and get effectively involved in library policy, if: together with library management they create some guidelines for the operation of Friends groups; they invite professionals and famous people to their group; and they maintain good communication with their members, the community, library staff, councillors, and also the local media.