Arts Council England’s new director for libraries has said he would like to “change the debate” on public libraries and see more made of the popularity of the service.
Brian Ashley has 30 years experience in local government library services, and joined ACE in 2011 from the Museums, Libraries & Archives Council. He will take on the libraries role part-time in July.
“Broadly, one of the things I would like to think I can do is change the nature of the debate around libraries,” he said. “I understand people will be anxious about the context we are currently working in, but at the same time it is important to look to the future and the positive developments libraries are making.”
He added: “We want to bring all people together working to that end. If you are completely outside of libraries, books and the arts, you can see everything in a different way. We need to remember it is a hugely popular service, full of people doing excellent things. Sometimes we can ignore that.”
Asked about ACE’s response to library closures, Ashley said: “Responsibility for the supervision of the library service rests with the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, and that is how it should be. The role of ACE is really around the development, advocacy, and where we can, investment in the service as a whole, so we do not look to take a stance on individual cases.
“We can’t ignore the challenges, and there is plenty that needs to be done, but libraries have always been good at adapting themselves to what people need, and I am confident they will continue to do so.”
Three libraries opening in the UK over the next year, in Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester, will bring “a fantastic range of offers”, he insisted, and claimed the Sieghart Review into e-book lending offered “the prospects of a positive solution”.
Ashley’s role will be split between libraries and a regional position, unlike his predecessor Nicky Morgan. He said: “All organisations, public and private, are facing difficult times and have to make savings. While it would be ideal to devote full time to all the areas, the new structure does bring its own benefits—the connection between that national view and what is happening on the ground brings really positive opportunities for us.”