Authors Val McDermid [pictured], Joanna Trollope and Francesca Simon have criticised the government's Ambition report for Public Libraries as "too little, too late".
The report, published by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on Thursday (1st December), unveiled a five-year strategy promising a £4m "innovation" fund for libraries help to keep the sector sustainable, and provide public services such as employment, health and learning opportunities. However, its critics have said it is precisely "ambition" that the report lacks.
"Any financial support for libraries is significant and welcome, but I suspect this may be too little, too late for many communities. Libraries are the seedbeds of our future and, at a time when we’re already facing a skills gap, they should be at the heart of our future strategy as a country," McDermid told the Guardian.
Simon was even more damning, called it "disgraceful" that the report seemingly ignored the real issues facing libraries. "To produce a report which ignores that one in eight libraries has closed, that librarians are being sacked, that funding has been slashed, while talking about libraries providing additional, unrelated services is disgraceful,” said Simon. “Libraries are best used for their vital original purpose – to make books and learning available to all. Libraries can be ‘better utilised’ by keeping them open, properly funded and professionally staffed. Then let’s discuss providing other services," she said.
Trollope told the paper the government report "didn't go far enough", and asked, "why have they given libraries almost no time to apply or react, especially at a time of year which is half-holidays anyway?" The £4m Libraries Opportunities for Everyone Innovation fund opens for applications today (5th December).
Last week, library campaigner Desmond Clarke told The Bookseller the report was "not the robust plan we were led to expect", saying it "ignores the numbers, both about how budgets are being spent and about what is happening in terms of usage, and avoids resolving the more difficult technological and structural issues", while campaigner Tim Coates called it "vacuous", arguing the money should be spent on improving book stock and increasing opening hours.
Rob Wilson, minister for civil society and responsible for libraries, has also revealed the Libraries Taskforce cost £250,000 in funding in 2015/16 and will receive a further £500,000 per year from 2016/17 to 2019/20, to provide for five members of "core" staff. Arts Council England further provided £100,000 for the 2015/16 Taskforce to fund their secondment of library staff and £74,000 to provide consultancy support for the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL). The disclosure follows scrutiny from shadow culture minister Kevin Brennan over the amount of money from the public purse the task force itself has required.