Thoughts about the Independent Library Report for England

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I realise I’m slow in getting round to sharing my thoughts on the recent Independent Library Report for England, which was presented by William Sieghart (and panel) to DCMS just before Christmas 2014, but here they are. I’m not going to do a run down of what the report contains. Instead I’m sharing what I feel are the positive/negative aspects of it. The actions and recommendations in the report are broken down into actions by central government, local government and a task force formed as part of those recommendations.

  • Central government – Positives
    • Asked to provide funding for updated digital network and services (including extending access to services) and staff training.
    • Establish a task force made up of library organisations and partners to provide leadership.
    • Establish PLR for ebooks loaned off-site.
    • Recognition of the need to sell benefits of libraries to leaders within local and central government, especially those outside of the library arena – a step towards obtaining funding from other central government departments in recognition of what libraries do to support other government initiatives.
  • Central government – Negatives
    • Funding needs to be provided for core services too, not just the digital aspects of it.
    • There’s too much emphasis on free wi-fi and digital aspects. It also needs to address other aspects of libraries that need support.
    • There’s no mention of reintroducing library standards or improving library legislation and the 1964 Act.
  • Task force – Positives
    • By recommending that this task force is set up it is recognition that there was a leadership void and something is needed to fill it.
    • Hopefully this will provide a more balanced leadership/partnership that can focus on the full range of services provided by libraries.
    • A digital network for libraries could provide a cohesive national service, as well as increased range of digital services & resources nationwide.
    • It will hopefully move the e-book lending situation forward.
    • Will provide a focus to develop skills of the library workforce.
    • Reporting (and accountable?) to both central and local government.
    • Tasked with increasing visibility of libraries ie better promotion, marketing.
    • Recommends consultation with users to develop library services. Lack of user consultation in the past has led to ill-feeling and in some cases judicial reviews.
  • Taskforce – Negatives
    • The tasks it has been assigned are too narrow and will only address some of the problems that libraries are facing.
    • No guidance has been given about how the library workforce should be developed.
    • Recommendations leave the door open to an increase in volunteer run libraries, which is at odds with developing the library workforce.
    • It will only be providing temporary leadership for 3 to 4 years, with only short-term aims and no long-term strategy or plan for the development of leadership.
    • Is this the right way to provide leadership and strategy, or would a single permanent body with a wide-ranging perspective on public libraries be better placed to achieve this?
  • Local government – Positives
  • Establishing a task force which could be used to provide cohesion/consistency to library services by sharing best practice and new ideas.
  • Opens up scope for library users to have a greater say in what happens in/to their library service.
  • Even though it acknowledges that volunteer libraries are an option it does say that they aren’t necessarily the best option.
  • Local government – Negatives
    • No mention of necessary funding from local government.
    • Recommendations about library governance leaves open governance models that aren’t necessarily in the best interest of libraries or their users.
  • All of the actions/recommendations give no real acknowledgement that libraries have a great many services, resources and benefits to offer, beyond the idea that it would be beneficial to improve the digital network. What about literacy, community, educational, outreach benefits? Hopefully having such a wide range of partners involved in the task force will ensure that these other aspects of library services aren’t forgotten.
  • The report illustrates the true value/benefits of libraries, but the focus on digital services to support these benefits shouldn’t be the sole way to support them. This should be clearly acknowledged in the report’s recommendations and actions.
  • On one hand the report talks about the benefits of cohesiveness and consistency of services provided by national initiatives, but on the other suggests that different governance models for libraries are acceptable and that local authorities have the responsibility to decide what is “comprehensive and efficient” in their local area. Local authorities cannot agree on this, so how will consistency of service be achieved in England?
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National Libraries Day and a #LibraryAtoZ Follow Up

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National Libraries Day this year is happening on 7th February.

As the National Libraries Day site says:

It is a chance for people to organise a local event or visit their library and interact with the vital work carried out by their library and information professionals, reminding decision-makers that our libraries and librarians are valued.

Last year’s National Libraries Day map showed around 600 events happening around Britain, although I suspect that more events actually happened – they just weren’t on the map.

If you’re looking for ideas about what you could do at your local library, whether you’re a member of staff, or a library user, I collated a short list of ideas a while ago, which can be found here.

If you’re looking for promotional and advocacy material to support whatever you do on National Libraries Day don’t forget that the Library A to Z full colour materials are still available for free download here, including full colour illustrations and poster templates which you can freely adapt. For example, my library service is using them on Pinterest and Twitter to promote our services during National Libraries Day this year. I know other people have used them for displays and promotions in their libraries. In-line with the comment on the National Libraries Day site you could also use the materials for “reminding decision-makers that our libraries and librarians are valued.” I’ll be sending a few of the #LibraryAtoZ cards out to local politicians just to remind them that libraries are still here. It seems a good time to do it in the lead up to the general election this year, especially as some of the cards feature the Speak Up For Libraries election manifesto.

Before I sign-off this blog post I’d also just like to say thanks to the individuals and organisations who supported the launch of the Library A to Z back in November last year. It was a bit of whirlwind up to and after the launch week and I realise I never wrote a thank you post. During the launch week Twitter worked really well to get the message out there and there were over 1000 #LibraryAtoZ mentions and retweets. Libraries got into the spirit of the promotional material and shared the words and images. Lots of people changed their Twitter avatars to the letter that matched the initial of one of their names. It was great to see it used in this way, as it got others asking about the images and what the Library A to Z was all about. I still see some avatars using the images when I go onto Twitter now. Just over 20 blogs and articles mention the A to Z, including some in the USA and Australia. The Bookseller and CILIP Update both gave the A to Z coverage. The A to Z was also mentioned on other social networks, but Twitter was the most active. It didn’t all just happen online either. Libraries used the material for promotional events, people sent copies of the book and cards to their local politicians. Library A to Z packs including books, posters and cards were also sent out to over 100 key decision-makers and politicians in the main parties in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, as well as around 30 media organisations. Andy Walsh spent a lot of time sending these packs out. I also had the opportunity to hand over copies of the book to politicians and speakers at the Speak Up For Libraries conference at the end of the launch week. It all helped to get the message out there. So, thank you to everyone who played a part.