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MLA to decide library purpose
The Museums, Libraries & Archives Council (MLA) is launching a public consultation to help decide on an "unequivocal statement of purpose" for public libraries. The move follows years of angry debate within the service about the extent to which it should focus on new technology, and whether that focus is being pursued at the expense of traditional book stocks.
The MLA's new policy paper, "A Blueprint for Excellence"--which aims to map out the second half of its "Framework for the Future" programme, which launched in 2002—said: "It is time for the public library service to take a hard look at both its role in society and the services it can and should be providing."
It called for an "unequivocal statement of purpose" and a "funded action plan to encourage improvement". Key stakeholders--including publishers, non-public libraries and citizen interest groups--will be invited to comment on the paper in a series of seminars in March, April and May.
The document described "universal entitlement to the skills and joy of reading" as one of four purposes of public libraries, and acknowledged "justifiable concern about the quality of resources, notably book stocks and the state of many buildings" across the service.
It also placed heavy emphasis on building digital resources, and on "moving with urgency and excitement to the digital age, [to] create a universal entitlement to remote and 24-hour, interactive access". MLA head of library policy John Dolan said: "Lifestyle and technology are the things that are taking us forward, and we have to move with the times."
He said that improvements would be funded by the "redirection of existing funds", both from efficiency savings within the libraries sector and by partnering with other public services.
The MLA's plans to overhaul the library supply chain came under further attack this week, after Martin Molloy, president of librarians' body CILIP and strategic director of cultural and community services for Derbyshire, dismissed them as "unhelpful and disappointing".
The proposals, drawn up by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, proposed the establishment of a central contracting agency by 2008, and promised £22m in savings if all library authorities in England got on board. But the scheme suffered a blow last September when the Central Buying Consortium--which represents a quarter of English library authorities--said it would not sign up to the scheme.
Molloy this week stressed that the savings were needed quickly to meet three-year targets for efficiency savings within all councils. "We needed the procurement savings to be almost immediate, but what we've ended up with is a delay in the process. The whole of this has been unhelpful and disappointing," he said.
The MLA rebuffed the criticism, arguing that PwC had always said that the savings would take time to implement. "In 2007, we set out the ambition for the first stage of implementation in 2008, and we are on track to meet that target," said Better Stock, Better Libraries programme director Andrew Stevens. He said that the MLA had made the plans part of its "2012 vision"--but stressed that this was "the end date, not the start date".