Cox: Libraries 'must do more with less'

The Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) has admitted that libraries "must do more with less" as it unveils its "Universal Offers" programme, which sets out guidelines for services all public libraries should offer to their local communities.

At a press conference this morning (31st January) Janene Cox, president of the SCL, answered questions from journalists and library campaigners about the plans, which set out four service areas—health, reading, information and digital—where libraries will be expected to focus.

Cox, who said in her statement that libraries are "facing huge challenges", said: "In the jargon of today, libraries must do more, or the same, with less. The ideas we have laid out are the core elements of a library service which people want to see maintained."

She added: "This is our response to the challenging times we find ourselves in. We are well aware there are less of us as librarians, and we are trying to capitalise on our strengths. This framework is enabling us to work collectively, so we can put together these ideas at a national level, and librarians on the ground don't have to come up with them, they can just take them off the shelf and be effective."

Asked if libraries which failed to offer the services laid out in framework would be reprimanded, she said: "This isn't about setting libraries up to fail. This is about being as supportive as we can be. We we want to show what a good library can be, and share best practice and use economies of scale to make that possible. We need to make the case for libraries."

Cox also revealed that around 98% of library authorities were signed up and committed to implementing the reading offer and health offer, which will launch in May and sees GPs able to prescribe approved books stocked at libraries to patients suffering with conditions such as anxiety and depression. Around 80 library authorities are now committed to the
information offer, which will aim to help people access the Government's Universal Credit scheme which replaces several benefits this year. Some campaigners have supported the ideas suggested, but warned that the real effort needs to be focused on keeping library services open and available to all.

Campaigner Desmond Clarke said there were "some good ideas" in the report, but warned: "This initiative does nothing to help confront the crisis facing public libraries. CIPFA confirmed that 200 libraries closed last year and Public Libraries News reports that more than 300 will close or transfer to volunteer management this year."