Library campaigners have expressed intense disappointment with the Arts Council (ACE)'s first strategy document on libraries. with one claiming it is not "devised to meet people's needs".
ACE formally takes over strategic responsibility for libraries from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council at the end of this month. The document, Culture, Knowledge and Understanding: Great Museums and Libraries for Everyone, said ACE was “keen to see museums and libraries continuing to innovate in their approaches to engaging with communities and making more effective use of volunteers” and sees “real opportunities to achieve economies of scale and greater impact where museums and libraries are . . . sharing their assets in collaboration with one another and with external partners”.
However, it warned ACE will have “relatively few funds” to invest in the sector and said it would “focus our investment on those excellent and forward-thinking museums and libraries best able to drive innovation, care for their collections and share learning”.
Campaigner Desmond Clarke said the paper was “a great, great disappointment” which showed the “chasm” between those sitting in their London office and the library users themselves. He said: “What the council is trying to do is to save money by replacing paid staff with volunteers, which will lead to the death of the public library service. It is not a strategy devised to meet people’s needs, but one devised by a few bureaucrats sitting in an office.”
Tim Coates, chair of umbrella campaign group Libraries for Life for Londoners, said the research cited for the paper “missed a lot of important research, not least the Select Committee report of 2004, a very long and well-thought out document and a major omission”.
He said: “The 1964 Museums and Public Libraries Act is absolutely clear in saying that public libraries should be organised to be of benefit for the people who want to use them, not on the basis of what councils want to do with the library buildings . . . There is no consciousness about the real issues that matter, books, operations, opening hours, and you have to have been living on another planet not to know what these issues are.”
Meanwhile Annie Mauger, chief executive of librarian body CILIP, said while she welcomed ACE’s “commitment” in taking on the responsibility for public libraries, she was “concerned” that there was so little funding to support and develop innovation and good practice in public library services.
She said: “CILIP is in discussions with ACE about the future. This is an opportunity to apply some fresh strategic thinking to the value and purpose of libraries and why public money is so well spent on their support and development."