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Visionary chapter opens for libraries

Children's librarians have been given a visionary blueprint in a new book which argues for a "more flexible, less hierarchical" service that takes account of the IT revolution and worldwide emphasis on children's rights Many libraries must repackage, reinvent or more effectively promote what they already offer to contradict their often outdated institutional image, says Catherine Blanshard, author of the book and head of Leeds library services.

She identifies information services and the early years as priorities for the future in Managing Library Services for Children and Young People.

Ms Blanshard says libraries have changed and now have greater community focus, and lend audiovisual materials and CDs. They also acknowledge the growth of IT and people's need for more information.

But, she says, people have not noticed the changes because many still see their role as being "limited to the loan of fiction to the literate middle class".

"Others have disregarded the library, often without investigating it, because it is not 'new' enough and therefore it is assumed not to be relevant to them."

The image overhaul is especially crucial when trying to entice older children and teenagers into libraries. Some library authorities, including Bromley with its shocking-pink Upfront teenage sections, have done some work in this area but many, Ms Blanshard says, have underplayed information services for young people.

Hertfordshire, where Ms Blanchard previously ran the children's library service, puts Factfiles for teenagers in secondary-school libraries, youth centres and public libraries. It has worked with the careers service, police, businesses and health-care providers to create a young people's information strategy.

* Libraries in many top public schools have longer opening hours and more funding than their state equivalents, according to a new report from the Library and Information Statistics Unit.

But LISU found that many of the schools were not measuring their libraries' performance or co-ordinating it with other school activities.

Managing Library Services for Children and Young People: a practical handbook by Catherine Blanshard (Library Association Publishing, pound;37.50, order on 01235 400400). Survey of independent school libraries by Gillian Shakeshaft, pound;17.50 from Library and Information Statistics Unit, Publications Section, Loughborough University, Loughborough LE11 3TU.

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