Libraries still valued as most trusted source of information

A study conducted by the University of Sheffield, and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has found that, although many people don't use libraries, museums and archives regularly to obtain information on issues of the day, they do value access to them as a trusted source of information, and believe there is a real moral and ethical obligation to preserve and maintain these services.

Professor Bob Usherwood, of the Department of Information Studies at the University of Sheffield, is presenting the findings of a two year national study, Perception of archives, libraries and museums in modern Britain on 23 May 2005 at the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland Conference.

His findings show that, although many respondents felt too time-poor to use facilities in libraries, museums and archives, they trusted the information there more than that provided by other organisations. Immediately accessible forms of information were the most used, but the least trusted of all types of information. So, for example, the television, internet and newspapers were by far the easiest way to get information, but respondents most often regarded these as sources of entertainment and gossip, rather than real information.

Professor Usherwood explains, "The study showed that libraries, museums and archives are part of only a relatively small number of true information organisations and they are valued as such by the general public.

"Although these organisations are thought to be important, the study also highlights the improvements they need to make in order to remain relevant in today's information age. The guidance offered to users of museums, libraries and archives was also highly valued. However, people also said that they found opening hours inconvenient and inappropriate and indicated that these organisations should do more to publicise their services.

"Many respondents were unaware of the full range of resources available and the data also indicate the perpetuation of some outdated attitudes. To counter such views, museums, libraries and archives might consider the contemporary appropriateness of their web-based resources and how they could be used to raise awareness of the role of their services in encouraging a greater understanding of social and political concerns.

"In summary, the study found that, despite the myriad of information available to people, the traditional services of museums, archives and libraries are felt to be significant both culturally, and as a source of information and understanding. However, they need to ensure that their services develop and extend to ensure that they keep their place in the nation's hearts and minds."

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