The Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) has called for a national library strategy to be set out for England as the rate of attrition of the public library service is "beyond urgent".
CILIP has warned about the consequences of England being the only nation in the UK not to have a strategy for public libraries and has set out practical steps to secure the future of the public library network.
Recently released data has revealed that as many as 549 libraries have closed since 2010 with staffing, open hours and expenditure continuing to fall. The way libraries are run and managed is diversifying at pace with increasing numbers of community managed libraries, CILIP has said.
CILIP is calling on the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce to "take ownership" of the future development of public libraries. The Taskforce was established to implement William Sieghart’s Independent Library Report for England which called for “genuine national strategic leadership” and “a national strategy [to] articulate what libraries are, and why they are a force for good for us all.”
Nick Poole, chief executive of CILIP, said that it is "shocking" that England is the "only nation in the UK that does not have a public libraries strategy nor standards". He said: "Without a clear, realistic and achievable plan we cannot expect to see the reinvigoration of our libraries that Sieghart’s report called for, and that we so badly need."
“Delivering real progress for our society and our economy depends on every single person having the opportunity to read, to develop their digital and critical thinking skills and to be part of their community, " Poole said. “The threats to public libraries services – of cuts, closures and ‘hollowing-out’ – hurt our communities, limit equality of opportunity and limit our progress as a nation.”
With the Taskforce, CILIP is a calling for the "urgent" establishment of a national strategy for public libraries in England, developed jointly by the library profession and the Local Government Association and endorsed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The body also suggested transitional funding support from the Treasury to "mitigate against ad-hoc and reactive decision-making" and to ensure this funding is "distributed fairly across England, irrespective of Parliamentary boundaries".
CILIP is also calling for a clear definition of a "tiered service", which highlights the core offers to be delivered by statutory public libraries as differentiated from non-statutory community hubs, and a clear, organisational model for the governance and implementation of the national strategy, based on the core partners of the Libraries Taskforce.
Veteran library campaigner Desmond Clarke told The Bookseller: “I applaud CILIP's initiative to set out a clear vision and a proper strategy for libraries and this needs to be taken up urgently by the Taskforce. In particular we need to address the marked decline in library usage and borrowing and get national and local government, the agencies, the profession and campaigners on the same page to build a modern and well-used library service."
He added: “I am hopeful that CILIP's initiative will help put a rocket behind the Taskforce.”
The first national strategy for Scotland's public libraries was launched on 2nd June 2015. The strategy has the support of the Scottish Governmen and has been developed to re-invigorate the role and perception of libraries and in particular sets out how libraries can address the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
The national strategy for public libraries in Wales, "Libraries Inspire: The strategic development framework for Welsh libraries 2012-2016", was launched in 2011. The strategy outlines the Welsh government's aims to maintain and develop "new innovative services" to meet the needs of the people of Wales.
The Northern Ireland Library Authority (Libraries NI) was established in April 2009 as a result of the Review of Public Administration. Libraries NI has the statutory responsibility for the provision of public library services in Northern Ireland. It is a non-departmental public body which reports to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.