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.”