Arts Council England and the Local Government Association have announced the 13 projects they intend to support through the Libraries Development Initiative. But library campaigner Desmond Clarke has criticised the choice of projects as "bizarre" in the light of the problems currently facing the public library service.
Many of the projects, which will receive funding of £230,000 between them, explore ways in which libraries can work with arts activities. One, Fresh Horizons, is a project to create a volunteer-run cinema within a community library in Kirklees. Another, in Derby, will explore how arts activities can be used to support people seeking work in library Job Clubs.
In Cambridgeshire, which faces widespread cutbacks to its library service, the Libraries Development Initiative will support a project to "test the use of Cambridgeshire libraries for cultural activities in those parts of the county with few or no other cultural facilities". The project will also enable residents to "commission arts and cultural activity that they are interested in through digital means" with the library service acting as "strategic commissioner".
A project run by the Publishers Association through Reading Partners to enable publishers to share their digital skills with libraries is also on the list, as is one to create a national Books on Prescription scheme, which would bring together all the individual projects in this area, which involves recommending books for those with mild to moderate mental health and other health conditions.
But Clarke said that overall the choices were "bizarre" and "so sad", in the light of the widespread cutbacks and closures facing the library service. He said: "The Arts Council and the Local Government Association haven't faced up to the issues everyone is talking about within the public library service. Libraries desperately need leadership and they have just been shoehorned into the Arts Council's priorities, where they do not fit."
The Arts Council took on responsibility as the strategic agency for libraries following the closure of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council last autumn.
An Arts Council spokesperson responded: "As development body for libraries, Arts Council England does not have statutory responsibility for funding libraries. The funding that we have announced through the Libraries Development Initiative is strategic money that will be focused on developing libraries, funding pilot projects that will build on the best of current practice to create a vibrant, sustainable 21st century public library service."