About Lyon Public Library

The public libraries of the City of Lyon are a public service with the mission of contributing to the leisure, information, education and culture of all.

The development project

As many questions weigh on libraries’ political, administrative, cultural, technical environments, many questions weigh upon their future. Lyon Public Library, the main public library of France, also began to wonder about its future, analysing its present and relying on its past.

This question is not new: initiated several months, or shall we even say several years ago, library is today given a first set of answers, partly linked to nowadays libraries general issues, and of course linked to Lyon’s situation.
To summarize these answers, we could arrange them under a resolutely offensive banner: “Library more than ever”. Doing so, we could first of all pre-empt a number of questions regarding the supposed end of book, of writing, of libraries, of though… Some may find these recurrent millenarianisms funny, some may find them annoying, they can be ignored, fought: let’s simply say here from the outset our strong belief regarding the more than ever necessary presence of library in the city.

Considered as a citizenship factory, a factor of harmony, a place of social link and of “living together” seen also as a platform for the diffusion and the sharing of knowledge, library appears to be a republican institution: freedom of shaping one’s personality, freedom of access, brotherhood in exchanging and sharing opinions and emotions. Library is also a institution dedicated to citizenship, sharing communal memories and identities with its own heritage, providing through staff, collections, areas, events, opportunities to read, understand, discuss a world we create and in which we live, and well, allowing members of the community to look together to possible futures.

Lastly, library pertains to this movement, going from the collection to the public, or should I say publics, placing them at the heart of its system and not seeing them as an adjustment tool, welcoming them as actors, also as creators even as content producers, and no longer as passive users. The operational model of “Living lab” may here be called in: public oriented innovative environments and services, stemming from participative conception and development.

Three lines of work have been selected in order to answer this bill of specifications. These guidelines can contain cross-disciplinary themes which will here be only mentioned (sustainable development, gender, etc.): first of all and logically, the “publics oriented” line. This line of our library development plan firmly puts the emphasis on the orientation towards “publics” chosen by our institution. This line is organised around three programs: accessibility, documentary offer and diversification of publics. To be “publics” oriented, means of course over a first to be accessible. This accessibility is worked CONCERNS from opening hours, pricing and reception standpoints. As for opening hours, two wills: first of all, considering equal amplitude, users should be given a simple and consistent information board, daily and yearly, therefore three categories of sites should be established within our library network, in order to answer users’ expectations, field’s reality and network organisation. As for pricing, here as well, our will goes to simplification and opening, turning an offer today uneasy to understand into a single subscription for all kind of documents. Reception of the public, finally, considered from an active standpoint, puts librarians – taken here in the generic sense of the term – back in their essential position and ambition of support and mediation. This notion of reception, being refocused, is moreover overhauled by our development plan in a “post-automaton” environment, along with a comprehensive and integrated management of our relation to users.

To be « publics oriented » is then to develop a documentary offer answering these publics’ expectations, first of all by writing down, for our institution, a collection development policy. The latter both preserves the ambition to form a corpus of knowledge, to meet the demand, and is also able to associate preservation requirements with consequences of circulation, while balancing material supply and immaterial supply. It is also to go towards publics by “carrying” the documents. Let us indeed recall here that collection development policy, as understood by our library’s development plan, is not limited to a channel starting with a buying request and ending with stocking the shelves. It is quite the opposite. This policy continues, from stocking the shelves on, through an active reception, library science support, cultural outreach initiatives, even through production of contents editorialising the documentary production. Profiling publics to capture a limited ability of attention, featuring contents, fiction or documentation, to create rarity where physical or digital abundance kills the appetite, it is indeed to prompt to write and read the world, to appropriate its memory, to dream its future . Finally, to be “public oriented” means to have an integral will to widen publics through mediation, beyond the walls, by defining target publics and an offer of services and collections fitting them, whether they are unemployed, job-seekers, inaccessible publics, old in a retirement home or young dropped out of school. A specific attention is given to the 15-35 years old group, simply because this category of public, in term of registrations or even visits, is experiencing the strongest decline, in Lyon as in other areas, also because this group, once described as the “new generation”, according to its new cultural habits, keeps questioning ourselves about our own offer, and about our ability to adapt ourselves to obviously renewed needs, especially in terms of mobility and more widely in terms of digital technologies.

The second line of work is dedicated to the library as a living place and as a forum in the city. Library has once been described as a “third place”, why not! The most important is to acknowledge that library should no longer be seen or experienced as a stock of documents on shelves to be borrowed, but should also, more and more be considered as a common living and working room. In fact, why should we still go to a library if all the books (let’s here anticipate…) have been digitalised and are then accessible from home? Because today, even more than yesterday there is a need in an ocean of information for a professional support, in order to avoid drowning in an overabundance of offers. Also because, at a time of a constantly renewed apotheosis of digital technology, human beings still want to meet real people in real places, either to discover new activities, or to do the same things they do at home or at work, but in a different way, to… live together and to be sociable. The offer should then be extended beyond the final product (the document) to spaces or tools dedicated to learning, building, expressing oneself and taking part into the life of the city (online services, studios, areas dedicated to displaying, meeting, group work). The library becomes a forum for meeting, learning and testing where information is acquired, exchanged, produced.

The issue of the living place must first of all take into consideration the territory itself and its equipment coverage: scheduling new libraries, building a network of services working together – such as the mobility of floating or revolving collections – by taking up the too often neglected challenge of logistics. These various aspects studied by our development plan also include answers requested by evolving old patterns (mobile library), as by emerging new patterns (ephemeral library). Library’s space itself is then questioned: if libraries are no longer conceived for borrowers but also for “long term service users”, the concept of “living and working library” mentioned earlier can then be rolled out around several axis: quality of reception, increase of comfort, conviviality and diversification of spaces, encouraging also a diversification of postures and attitudes. The whole bill of specifications of the “Loft” project, being not only a dedicated space but more a Y generation spirit, has to be developed into offers of service, collection, furniture, programming, etc…

The topic of the living place addresses obviously the issue of the Part-Dieu Library, the main branch of the Lyon Public Library, which 40th anniversary was celebrated in December 2012. This issue has been handled in two steps: first, short and medium terms goals already taking into account the general orientations of our development plan; second, a primary reflection meant to feed on the long run a general overview for a redevelopment, and to fit into the prospects defined for the neighbourhood by the Part-Dieu project team.

To shape the library as a living place and as a forum in the city also implies establishing our ambition of promoting creation and debate in our library. Therefore, the programming issue must be raised. Once again, programming should not be here considered as an adjustment tool, an extra touch of soul or icing on the cake, but as an essential component of our library’s development plan, an essential part of its scientific management, of its approach to publics, of its collections’ management. This statement first of all implies a necessary library cultural policy to be written down, on the same level as the collection development policy. This document could be a cultural outreach initiatives charter, making the library a place for debate, knowledge and discovery, also structuring and coordinating these cultural outreach initiatives. Partnerships are still to be decided and developed following the city’s will to build a network and to have all the players involved in Lyon’s cultural scene working together. This also applies to the means and ways of educational outreach initiatives and mediation, with a specific attention paid to the young public.

The last part of our library development plan is called the “Lyon model”, with humility but also with ambition. With humility, as of course other models are valid; the model proposed here is linked to a given time, environment, work team. Also with ambition, since ambition is legitimate for the biggest municipal library in France, since it takes into account a very ancient past and a very contemporary present. Under these conditions, Lyon Public Library, writing down its development plan, must bring not an answer, but its own answer to the issue of a model for libraries’ future.

First of all, we suggest to found this model on digital innovation: after our online question and answer service called Guichet du Savoir, after our Internet documentary orientation service based on the latest news called Points d’Actu, this decision will not be any surprise. Following the tracks of hybrid library, 2.0, even hyperlink library, we must oriented collections, access to digital technologies and services in this direction. Let’s here recall our goals: to reduce digital divide, to prevent informative alienation and, finally, to rise to the challenge set by digital natives’ cultural habits to library’s traditional working methods.

In Lyon, our priority is the collection, with, for the first time in Europe, a library’s heritage collection almost completely digitized. The stakes are, for a real sharing of knowledge, to bring to the widest public a collection for which, being stocked on shelves, even virtual shelves, is no longer sufficient. How? Through digital mediation made of contextualisation, digital discovery tours, etc... Digital collections (in the plural: heritage collection, periodicals, e-books, music…), digital and… mobile services, digital public with the arrival of the 2.0 community on the scene, as a user but also as an actor: hybrid library spreads out on every aspects, asserts its identity as it establishes this henceforth expected “digital immersion”, from transactions automation to supply of tablet computers, including indoor or outdoor digital information screens or supply of urban offices.

Second direction in an expected but overhauled field: heritage promotion. Around strong themes linked to our city history, but also to its present time and future (Renaissance, religion, workers memories, innovation…), in relation to programming and also digitisation, our goal is to increase our offer, putting the public in an active position, diversify approaches of reading and appropriation, with a mix of monstration and feedback forms.

The last territory claimed by our « Lyon model » is exactly a matter of territory, not only considering Lyon’s territory but many others. This means for us, to work on Lyon’s territory itself, in particular through partnerships with universities and/or actors of the book industry. It also means to reach close territories, such as the “Grand Lyon”, the urban community of Lyon, or obviously further ones, by taking up regional and metropolitan challenges. The territorial perspective indeed is extended to the national level, including collaboration with Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), Bibliothèque publique d’information (BPI), École nationale supérieure des sciences de l’information et des bibliothèques (ENSSIB), active memberships in national and international professional organisations. This last part of our library development plan opens even more Lyon Public Library to the world, with 2014 IFLA congress being hosted in Lyon, with the promotion of our collection – digital and physical (collection in Chinese for example) – on international level tools, and with the project to create an association, a federation, a network of European cities and metropolis, in other words a place dedicated to meeting, exchange and innovation which would gather together major libraries of European regional metropolis. If Public libraries of metropolitan dimensions do not exist from an administrative perspective, Lyon Public Library is offering such a model through its library development plan.

Gilles Eboli