National body for libraries needed, says Labour

A Labour party policy report on the public library service has recommended the setting up of a new national body to help the government and local authorities to better safeguard its future.

Dan Jarvis MP, the shadow minister for libraries, told The Bookseller that the body would be able to share ideas and spread better practice. He said: “There aren’t enough people in national government who wake up and worry about what to do with library services. Having a cadre of experienced people working across local authorities and with ministers would provide more coherence.”

Jarvis added: “We can’t pretend all is rosy in the garden, and in the current climate local authorities are having to make difficult decisions. Some are doing it better than others. “There is a role for national government to provide leadership, and spread best practice.”

The report, which Jarvis said is designed as a “talking point” that could go on to inform a future Labour manifesto, is supportive of the idea of co-location of library services.

Jarvis said: “There are a lot of opportunities to form community partnerships would could see libraries protected and kept open.” He also added that volunteers were important for the service, but not at the expense of professional jobs.

The shadow libraries minister said: “The report talks about the importance of volunteers, but makes the point that they should not be a substitution for an adequately funded public library service.”

Jarvis praised the work of professional librarians, saying: “I think librarians are under-valued, but they play an absolutely vital role. The way people will access information in libraries will change in the future, but there will always be a need for them.”

And in the week in which communities secretary Eric Pickles dismissed library campaigners as “a bunch of luvvies” in an exchange in parliament, Jarvis said he hoped the report, “articulates the importance of libraries and what they offer to their communities. The report should be a thoughtful, sensible contribution to a very important debate.”

He added: “Hopefully people will read it, think about it, and come back to us to tell us what they think about it.”

The full report, titled Libraries: Innovation, Co-location and Partnership, is published today (20th December) and can be read here.