At the end of March 2011 the MLA (Museums, Libraries & Archives Council) & LGA (Local Government Association) produced a final report for the “Future Libraries Programme.” Its remit was to review pilot projects that had been running throughout the U.K. as part of the programme to develop public library services. Following on from this best practice in these projects would be disseminated to other library services in the U.K.
The following quotes were taken from the Executive Summary.
“library services can make use of recent evidence about consumer needs and aspirations, while policy priorities such as the Big Society create opportunities for library services to reshape themselves to be fit for purpose for the 21st century”
“Across the library sector and local government a range of activity is underway supporting change in libraries, and the Future Libraries Programme complements and extends this innovation and improvement.”
“Options appraisal should begin from an assessment of community and user need and aspiration.”
“Engaging political leadership from the outset is crucial.”
The fact that so many campaigners battled with (and are still battling with) local authorities to try and persuade them to change their plans to reduce/cut library services suggests that local authorities are not noting “consumer needs and aspirations” at the outset, but only when they are forced into doing it. Many consultations regarding changes to library services did not begin with a discussion with communities. They began with an attitude of “We need to save money, and here’s what we’re going to cut.” At this stage, communities made their discontent known (by campaigning) and then the discussions with communities began… after they had already been upset by the proposals.
The “opportunities” have been twisted into ways for local authorities to save money, rather than the development of “innovation and improvement” or “to reshape themselves to be fit for purpose for the 21st century” .
It seems as if political leadership wasn’t part of the engagement process. It looked as if it was actually the driver in many cases, even though political agendas can often be different to the agenda of library services.
I understand that the cuts to local authority funding and the Future Library programme are not the same thing, but they are so intricately tied together. As the cuts came in, the Future Libraries Programme was there and it appears that those in power have leapt at the money saving options as the key thing, rather than picking up on the innovations that would still provide a quality library service for users. I’m not stupid – I understand that saving money would make people take interest, but at the same time, if libraries were invested in and developed innovative library services, local authorities would reap the rewards in increased usage.
Maybe the key problem is that decision makers at the top of the chain aren’t from a library background and, as such, it’s no wonder that these decisions are made. If they don’t understand the purpose of a service they don’t really understand what they are taking away from those who value and need it, do they?