Thoughts about the Independent Library Report for England


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?

6 thoughts on “Thoughts about the Independent Library Report for England

  1. mickfortune

    Excellent analysis Gary! I’m very worried that there is so much emphasis on wifi and digital.

    Some of Sieghart’s recent comments about the need to remember the books suggest that he may be beginning to think the same way.

    Given Roly Keating’s digital credentials the task force will no doubt be heavily influenced by the British Library’s outstanding efforts under his leadership. So the digital future looks to be well represented (and that’s undoubtedly a good thing). But we can’t flick the digital switch to “on” overnight and there are rich resources and a wealth of services that are in danger of being overlooked altogether (they are already neglected) that ought to be a part of a more evolutionary transition. Not to mention the ability or enthusiasm of public sector ICT to deliver and support the infrastructure needed, or of the public to use it.

    • Thanks Mick. I find it surprising that the other non-digital or ICT aspects do get mentioned and applauded in the report, but there are no recommendations to encourage their development and support. With the Task force supposedly only in place for 4 years I also wonder how they are going to achieve this for the hundred plus library authorities in time?

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