News

SCL announces 'universal offers' for libraries

The Society of Chief Librarians (SCL), with the support of culture minister Ed Vaizey, has "set out their vision for the future of public libraries" with four “Universal Offers” describing services that all libraries should be expected to provide.

SCL announced the initiative in a presentation at the British Library this morning (31st January), calling it “the first integrated national approach to library services” and saying it would provide “real value to local people” in difficult times.

The four Universal Offers, Health, Reading, Digital and Information, are said to "clarify what the public should be able to expect from their library."

Culture minister Ed Vaizey said: "The four Universal Offers clearly shows the range of services libraries now offer and this national approach will help ensure all libraries keep pace with changing demands."

The Universal Health Offer is a national strategy that emphases the contribution libraries can make to health and well-being in communities. There will be a roll-out of services across libraries in England and Wales, with an emphasis on community outreach to vulnerable people, providing non-clinical community spaces, and giving access to expert staff and health resources.

Alongside this, from May 2013 a programme called Books on Prescription will be launched, supported by the Department of Health and the Royal Colleges of GPs, Nursing and Psychiatrists. GPs will be able to “prescribe” books on anxiety and depression to patients, with the books available in local libraries. There will also be a separate Moodboosting books scheme for people to suggest up-lifting novels and poetry.

The Universal Reading Offer focuses on promoting reading and literacy, working with groups such Booktrust and World Book Night to share best practice and spread reading programmes.

For the Universal Information Offer, libraries will help users to get online and direct them to relevant resources on job seeking, health, and finance. They will also provide information on the new Universal Credit, a replacement for multiple benefits which comes into effect this year.

The Universal Digital Offer specifies that all libraries should provide free internet access for customers, as well as offering access to services online.

Janene Cox, President of SCL, said: “At present public libraries are facing huge challenges - there are reduced budgets within local authorities, new and developing operating models and changing customer expectations and as a result SCL have worked with our partners to devise a new and creative strategy for library services which is focused around four universal service offers. These offers focus upon the service areas that our customer’s tell us are important and they enable libraries to continue to develop these service areas.

“Challenging times does require innovative thinking and we are determined within SCL that services will continue to progress and develop so that Libraries can continue to make a difference to the communities that they serve.”

Roly Keating, chief executive of the British Library, said: “As vital resources for their communities, public libraries have to keep evolving to suit the changing needs of their users. This creative package of offers will mean the public can expect an even more valuable range of services from their library, giving them easier access to a wider range of information – something every library user will welcome.” 

Vaizey took the opportunity to reiterate his view that "The public library service is in good health", saying: "There were 256 million visits to England’s 3,243 libraries in 2011-12 with three quarters of children and 40 per cent of adults using our libraries.  These are phenomenal statistics that show the strength and relevance of public libraries.”

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My local library is Cheddar in Somerset.

From the moment that the government changed in 2010, a permanent display of 'Wellbeing' books appeared. As the library service swayed to the demands of politicians, local, and national.... where previously it had been, as far as I could see, neutral.

I'm not interested in 'Prescribed Offerings' in my library, defined by central government.

I do value being able to go into a library, and receive advice, or have a short conversation about book choice..., with someone who actually reads..., and hasn't just received a swift training in how to work the computer system.

The consistent message coming from this government is.. while wriggling hard to evade responsibilities.., and say to communities.. 'Do-It-Yourselves'... this combines with a really heavy 'Daddy Knows Best' attitude. Have you listened to Iain Duncan Smith recently, or Eric 'walrus in a suit' Pickles..?

Yes, it's a promotional gimmick if you like - and libraries need those.

It's also a tried-and-tested scheme in liaison with GPs, with research to show its worth and now the explicit backing of a whole pile of Royal Colleges.

All oven-ready for clued-up libraries to go to their local councils and the wreckage of the NHS, to get money from them for a cost-effective way to meet some of their responsibilities.

That's how libraries have to play the game these days.
They badly need the tools to do it with.

It's a shame.
But unless you succeed in destroying the entire insane neoliberal economic god that has ruled the whole world for many decades... and I'll help you any way I can – we need some realism, and some real life tools.

There's nothing wrong with the 4 Universal Wotsits.
Except they are presented at a time when public libraries are fighting to survive, let alone improve.

"Books on Prescription" sounds very much like a promotional gimmick as libraries have always had books on all subjects, including self help books on anxiety and other mental health issues, available free of charge to all readers.

Aristotle's *law of noncontradiction* states that "One cannot say of something that it is and that it is not - in the same respect and at the same time".

Here is a Contradiction that this conference exemplifies :

Accessible public libraries providing a high standard of service are rapidly becoming far less than the universal offer aspired to when the institution was conceived and developed.

But at this conference SCL is announcing 'universal offers for libraries'. That implies that there will be a comprehensive service in place, that is fit for purpose, into which to deposit whatever ideas they have.

That is why the user public may be hostile to statements made about Libraries by the SCL, Ministers of the DCMS and the Arts Council. However laudable the aspirations of conference might be, those who are discuss them appear to be ignoring all the harsh reality on the ground.

A further source of public frustration with conference is the *repackaging* of ideas that have been expressed before. Here is one example :

In July 2010 Culture minister Ed Vaizey, with the Society of Chief Librarians, made a 'public library promise' to help Race Online 2012 - the Government's campaign, led by Martha Lane Fox, to ensure that many more people are online by the end of the Olympic year.

So ... much of what is being *announced* today is merely a reiteration of old news.

The public's hostility to their exclusion from all decision-making and blue-sky thinking is not politically motivated. It results from the vast gulf between those who have responsibility for the service and all those who use it. Exactly the same concerns existed under the former Labour government - and there has been NO narrowing of the gulf since then, rather it has got wider. SCL and the Minister would do well to heed Aristotle, acknowledge realities and respond to the cry of the people.

The "universal offer" that we want is a comprehensive and professionally run public library service. Will the SCL ensure that is delivered as defined in law?

We should not have to be seeking judicial reviews and/or campaign to ensure that a proper library service is provided in our communities.

There are some good ideas in this report. However, 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. Most worrying some local government officers are reporting that worse is to come as cuts deeepen.

The question being asked is when will the reality of what is happening in many authorities be recognised by the DCMS, SCL and ACE, and how do they intend to ensure a viable, comprehensive and efficient service. That is the "universal" offer that should be available to all whatever their post code. It is also the duty prescribed in the 1964 Act.

There are some good ideas in this report. However, 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. Most worrying some local government officers are reporting that worse is to come as cuts deeepen.

The question being asked is when will the reality of what is happening in many authorities be recognised by the DCMS, SCL and ACE, and how do they intend to ensure a viable, comprehensive and efficient service. That is the "universal" offer that should be available to all whatever their post code. It is also the duty prescribed in the 1964 Act.

The "universal offer" that we want is a comprehensive and professionally run public library service. Will the SCL ensure that is delivered as defined in law?

We should not have to be seeking judicial reviews and/or campaign to ensure that a proper library service is provided in our communities.

Aristotle's *law of noncontradiction* states that "One cannot say of something that it is and that it is not - in the same respect and at the same time".

Here is a Contradiction that this conference exemplifies :

Accessible public libraries providing a high standard of service are rapidly becoming far less than the universal offer aspired to when the institution was conceived and developed.

But at this conference SCL is announcing 'universal offers for libraries'. That implies that there will be a comprehensive service in place, that is fit for purpose, into which to deposit whatever ideas they have.

That is why the user public may be hostile to statements made about Libraries by the SCL, Ministers of the DCMS and the Arts Council. However laudable the aspirations of conference might be, those who are discuss them appear to be ignoring all the harsh reality on the ground.

A further source of public frustration with conference is the *repackaging* of ideas that have been expressed before. Here is one example :

In July 2010 Culture minister Ed Vaizey, with the Society of Chief Librarians, made a 'public library promise' to help Race Online 2012 - the Government's campaign, led by Martha Lane Fox, to ensure that many more people are online by the end of the Olympic year.

So ... much of what is being *announced* today is merely a reiteration of old news.

The public's hostility to their exclusion from all decision-making and blue-sky thinking is not politically motivated. It results from the vast gulf between those who have responsibility for the service and all those who use it. Exactly the same concerns existed under the former Labour government - and there has been NO narrowing of the gulf since then, rather it has got wider. SCL and the Minister would do well to heed Aristotle, acknowledge realities and respond to the cry of the people.

"Books on Prescription" sounds very much like a promotional gimmick as libraries have always had books on all subjects, including self help books on anxiety and other mental health issues, available free of charge to all readers.

Yes, it's a promotional gimmick if you like - and libraries need those.

It's also a tried-and-tested scheme in liaison with GPs, with research to show its worth and now the explicit backing of a whole pile of Royal Colleges.

All oven-ready for clued-up libraries to go to their local councils and the wreckage of the NHS, to get money from them for a cost-effective way to meet some of their responsibilities.

That's how libraries have to play the game these days.
They badly need the tools to do it with.

It's a shame.
But unless you succeed in destroying the entire insane neoliberal economic god that has ruled the whole world for many decades... and I'll help you any way I can – we need some realism, and some real life tools.

There's nothing wrong with the 4 Universal Wotsits.
Except they are presented at a time when public libraries are fighting to survive, let alone improve.

My local library is Cheddar in Somerset.

From the moment that the government changed in 2010, a permanent display of 'Wellbeing' books appeared. As the library service swayed to the demands of politicians, local, and national.... where previously it had been, as far as I could see, neutral.

I'm not interested in 'Prescribed Offerings' in my library, defined by central government.

I do value being able to go into a library, and receive advice, or have a short conversation about book choice..., with someone who actually reads..., and hasn't just received a swift training in how to work the computer system.

The consistent message coming from this government is.. while wriggling hard to evade responsibilities.., and say to communities.. 'Do-It-Yourselves'... this combines with a really heavy 'Daddy Knows Best' attitude. Have you listened to Iain Duncan Smith recently, or Eric 'walrus in a suit' Pickles..?