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Arts Council to 'speak up for libraries'

The Arts Council has given the first indication of how it intends to approach its forthcoming responsibility for libraries by publishing a review of its strategic goals.

ACE will take on libraries and museums when the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) winds down this autumn. The review, conducted by one-time Labour education secretary Estelle Morris, discusses the goals identified in the Arts Council’s recent strategic document “Achieving Great Art for Everyone” and looks to develop them so that the role played by libraries and museums are included.

Morris’ report says there is common ground for libraries, museums, art and performance, in that all play a vital role in enabling people to be active, engaged and empowered citizens. Speaking to The Bookseller, Morris said that dealing with the practicalities of the issues of library closures was not what she was asked to do. “The problem I was trying to address was that when the government said the MLA was going to the Arts Council, the Arts Council had already gone through an extensive consultation to produce ‘Achieving Great Art for Everyone’. They said: ‘We want to give a clear message. We want to change the document so that museums and libraries feel it is their home’.”

Morris said she had tried to provide a single narrative that would unite all the areas now covered by the Arts Council, with each able to subscribe to the idea that they were “absolutely essential to a civil society”.

A spokesperson for the Arts Council described Morris’ report as an “icebreaker” which would begin a conversation with stakeholders and lead to a more detailed document to be published in September. “This is a challenging time for all arts and cultural organisations and of course libraries are no exception,” the spokesperson said. “It’s important that the case is clearly made for the central role that libraries play in peoples’ lives and in our communities—a role Estelle highlights in her report. The Arts Council’s new wider remit will, we hope, support this. For the first time we can have a single conversation at a local level about arts and culture; we can become an advocate and champion for libraries and museums as well as the arts—giving them a stronger collective voice.

"We want to work even more collaboratively with local authorities, whose budgets are also under pressure, prioritising partnerships with those authorities who show a real dedication to and investment in, culture.”

But library campaigner Desmond Clarke criticised the review as “verbiage” which would not convince council leaders bent on wielding the axe that public libraries are really needed. He said: “They are trying to shoehorn the needs of the library sector to fit in with the functions of the Arts Council. An image came into my mind of the ugly sisters trying to fit their foot into the glass slipper.”

Clarke predicted that the report would end up gathering dust on shelves or consigned to the bin by council chiefs.

Former MLA chief Roy Clare, Newcastle’s director of libraries Tony Durcan and British Library chief Dame Lynne Brindley were among the 23 people involved with museums, literature and libraries who were consulted during the six-week period in which Morris wrote the report. Clarke said Morris had talked to the “same old people”, saying: “If the Arts Council does not get a real grip and find out what people really want from a public library service, its involvement will be doomed to failure.”

The full report can be read at www.artscouncil.org.uk/publication_archive/review-arts-councils-strategic-framework/.

 

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So, an icebreaker will have a conversation with stakeholders. Why can't these people speak like normal people? It gets in the way of what looks like an interesting report.

The Arts Council has no idea how Library usage effects the lives of 'normal people especially those in rural areas and the 1 in 5 households who do not have computer access. I would suggest they get out of their cities and come down to Somerset, visit those in isolated rural areas, who in many cases do not even have a bus service, to see how the loss of their mobile libraries will effect them. All government decisions at the moment are far too "ivory tower" totally disconnected from the grass roots users of services! “Achieving Great Art for Everyone”note the everybody!

"Former MLA chief Roy Clare, Newcastle’s director of libraries Tony Durcan and British Library chief Dame Lynne Brindley were among the 23 people involved with museums, literature and libraries who were consulted during the six-week period in which Morris wrote the report."

My heart sank on reading this. It has ever been the case that taxpayers -- specifically the users of public libraries -- who pay the inflated salaries of civil servants are perceived by these to be a form of lowlife whose contribution to the debate merits no interest.

If Estelle Morris [who has gained respect in the past for her integrity] wishes to do the public a service, rather than cosy up to a select elite of assorted "stakeholders" -- most of whom have to date dismally failed to perform -- she should mount her bicycle and pedal over to see the limp member of Parliament, Ed Vaizey, to insist upon, not the production of yet another pile of worthless reports and reviews, but some action by him to halt the dismemberment of the public library service over which he is flacidly presiding.

"Speak up", Arts Council, by all means -- but speak up as though you inhabit the same world as the rest of us. For that we would thank you.

What happened to the Library Development board proposed by the All Party Pariamentary Group and by Mr Vaizey to provide strategic leadership and vision for the sector? Has not everyone being complaining for so long about the lack of leadership in the sector? The Arts Council need to resolve this issue if public libraries are to survive and meet people's real needs.

I think that the start of Arts Council involvement in the public library service offers another moment of opportunity.

It would be sensible, albeit with brevity and pragmatism, both to appraise the issues facing the library service both nationally and in local councils and also to interrogate why the history of central leadership of the service has been so ineffective

There needs to be less talk of 'sectors' which is Westminster village shorthand for justifying the roles of departments, and more attention to the real matters that concern the people who use, manage and operate the service itself.

I ask for more reflection of a different kind than has been done in this report.

Relationship with the Arts and Museums is a very tiny aspect of what matters.

Despite the generally accepted view that we live in an 'Information Society' there has been little sign of government policy embracing that concept. We have rather been travelling rapidly in the opposite direction since the previous government decided to subsume the Library and Information Commission in the MLA. The latest move, to place libraries under the aegis of the Arts Council, fills me full of despair.

The only good news recently has been that Jeremy ?unt's performance in the BSkyB saga has been so woefully inadequate that we might dare to hope that DCMS will suffer the fate that it deserves - and also be closed down.

So, an icebreaker will have a conversation with stakeholders. Why can't these people speak like normal people? It gets in the way of what looks like an interesting report.

The Arts Council has no idea how Library usage effects the lives of 'normal people especially those in rural areas and the 1 in 5 households who do not have computer access. I would suggest they get out of their cities and come down to Somerset, visit those in isolated rural areas, who in many cases do not even have a bus service, to see how the loss of their mobile libraries will effect them. All government decisions at the moment are far too "ivory tower" totally disconnected from the grass roots users of services! “Achieving Great Art for Everyone”note the everybody!

"Former MLA chief Roy Clare, Newcastle’s director of libraries Tony Durcan and British Library chief Dame Lynne Brindley were among the 23 people involved with museums, literature and libraries who were consulted during the six-week period in which Morris wrote the report."

My heart sank on reading this. It has ever been the case that taxpayers -- specifically the users of public libraries -- who pay the inflated salaries of civil servants are perceived by these to be a form of lowlife whose contribution to the debate merits no interest.

If Estelle Morris [who has gained respect in the past for her integrity] wishes to do the public a service, rather than cosy up to a select elite of assorted "stakeholders" -- most of whom have to date dismally failed to perform -- she should mount her bicycle and pedal over to see the limp member of Parliament, Ed Vaizey, to insist upon, not the production of yet another pile of worthless reports and reviews, but some action by him to halt the dismemberment of the public library service over which he is flacidly presiding.

"Speak up", Arts Council, by all means -- but speak up as though you inhabit the same world as the rest of us. For that we would thank you.

What happened to the Library Development board proposed by the All Party Pariamentary Group and by Mr Vaizey to provide strategic leadership and vision for the sector? Has not everyone being complaining for so long about the lack of leadership in the sector? The Arts Council need to resolve this issue if public libraries are to survive and meet people's real needs.

I think that the start of Arts Council involvement in the public library service offers another moment of opportunity.

It would be sensible, albeit with brevity and pragmatism, both to appraise the issues facing the library service both nationally and in local councils and also to interrogate why the history of central leadership of the service has been so ineffective

There needs to be less talk of 'sectors' which is Westminster village shorthand for justifying the roles of departments, and more attention to the real matters that concern the people who use, manage and operate the service itself.

I ask for more reflection of a different kind than has been done in this report.

Relationship with the Arts and Museums is a very tiny aspect of what matters.

Despite the generally accepted view that we live in an 'Information Society' there has been little sign of government policy embracing that concept. We have rather been travelling rapidly in the opposite direction since the previous government decided to subsume the Library and Information Commission in the MLA. The latest move, to place libraries under the aegis of the Arts Council, fills me full of despair.

The only good news recently has been that Jeremy ?unt's performance in the BSkyB saga has been so woefully inadequate that we might dare to hope that DCMS will suffer the fate that it deserves - and also be closed down.