ACE Envisioning: “wake up call to government”

ACE Envisioning: “wake up call to government”

Library bodies and campaigners have responded to Arts Council England’s (ACE) Envisioning the Library of the Future research, with many welcoming the findings but demanding that it leads to greater action.

ACE’s research project, begun in January 2012, was released yesterday, outlining four key priorities for for developing public libraries, including placing libraries at the heart of the community, making the most of digital technology, ensuring that libraries are sustainable and delivering the right skills for those that work in libraries.

John Dolan, chair of the Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals council, said the report illustrated the need for more leadership for libraries. He said: “The report shows that people are passionate about having a library in their community but with the difficult economic realities faced by local authorities and without stronger political leadership supporting a clear national vision it’s going to be a struggle to deliver consistently high-quality and relevant library services in communities across the country. A postcode lottery is not fair or equitable.”

The research called for all bodies with an interest in libraries to work together on developing the service. The Society of Chief Librarians welcomed the report for alligning with their own findings, but urged ACE to continue to invest in their libraries programme, saying: “We welcome the opportunity to form part of a collaboration with the Arts Council and others to lead and deliver on the aspirations of Envisioning. Whilst a collaboration will maximise the overall contribution of all partners, we hope that the Arts Council will be able to invest in Envisioning in order for its full impact to be experienced by local communities.”

The Local Government Association (LGA) said the report confirmed the issues that many councils were facing, and outlined some of the steps different services are taking. However, Flick Rea, chair of the LGA’s culture, media and sport board said: “Across the country there’s been a fantastic amount of creativity and ambition to modernise libraries in ways which engage young people, don’t alienate existing users and make the most of diminished budgets. In the last couple of years we have seen libraries opening up in village halls, pubs, shops, churches, day care centres and tourist information centres, as well as linking with health, social care, benefits and job search providers. However, were government to inflict yet more funding cuts on councils, which have already borne the brunt of its austerity measures, some would not be able to continue shielding libraries from cuts which may mean more would be forced to close.”

Richard Mollet, c.e.o. of the Publishers Association (PA), said he hoped the PA would be another group who would work with libraries. He said: “The recommendations for an open and enabling ICT infrastructure agreed by local authorities and library services together with the need to ensure library staff have the required digital skills are particularly important in light of the Sieghart Review's report on e-lending. In light of the successful digital skills development project delivered through collaboration between publishers and librarians, we hope to see The Publishers Association and its members added to the list of those with whom libraries will work in partnership with to take this vision forward”.

Labour MP Dan Jarvis said the report should be a “wake up call” to the government to do more to protect libraries. He said: “This report is a welcome insight into the value placed on libraries by the public, and the staff who work in them. I am pleased that it shares many of the conclusions found in Labour’s report Libraries: Innovation, Co-location and Partnership. It should be yet another wake up call to David Cameron that more needs to be done to ensure our libraries are sustainable. The latest figures demonstrate that in 2011/12 201 library service points were lost and a further 293 are now under threat. The responsibility for oversight lies firmly at the door of David Cameron and Ed Vaizey and they need to act now.”

Children’s author and library campaigner Alan Gibbons criticised the report for not addressing closures. He said: “It is all very well ‘envisioning’ the digital future when up and down the country branch libraries are closing the door for the last time or being handed over to an uncertain future in the hands of volunteer groups whose long term viability is questionable. How robust does the future of libraries look in Sheffield and Manchester, Newcastle and Liverpool where around half the branch network is in danger? How resilient do libraries seem in Herefordshire where the councillors’ idea of a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ service is one library in the whole county? How are librarians in Sefton going to develop the right skills when up to forty of them may be made redundant? How will libraries become the hubs of their community when vast swathes of our community will not have one?”