The value of digital and physical library services in UK public libraries and why they are not interchangeable

Ruthven, Ian and Robinson, Elaine and McMenemy, David (2022) The value of digital and physical library services in UK public libraries and why they are not interchangeable. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science. ISSN 0961-0006 (

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This study reports on a series of focus groups of UK public library users to understand how the forced closure of UK libraries caused by the COVID pandemic and the increased use of replacement digital services affected their library use. We specifically focus on digital exclusion and whether this increased as the result of physical library services being inaccessible. We show that although digital exclusion did increase as the result of library closures, digital exclusion was not the best way to characterise our participants’ experiences and digital choices was a more suitable concept. We show how public library users adapted to library closures, how they coped with these closures, and how they intend to use library services in the future. Our participants reported different patterns of use of digital and physical library services, had different experiences of these two modes of library service, and described their value in different terms. We explore what they valued in physical and digital services and show how simple arguments that digital services can replace physical ones do not match the experiences or wishes of those who use these services.