Campaigners critical over Government library blueprint

Campaigners critical over Government library blueprint

Libraries in the hands of community groups, private sector funding and self-service borrowing points in shops and village halls are the way forward for the public library service, according to the report from the Future Libraries Programme.

The report, "Future Libraries: Change, Options and How to Get There" has been issued by the Local Government Association and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, and will now be shared with councils across the country.

Culture minister Ed Vaizey said: “The Future Libraries Programme has shone a spotlight on excellent examples of innovation and creative partnership working. It will be a hugely useful resource, inspiring local authorities to emulate the best ideas to provide a first rate library service.”

But librarian group Voices for the Library have strongly criticised the report's recommendations, saying they will do "serious damage to our public library network, and be counterproductive to efforts to modernise libraries and meet the needs of the UK public". Libraries campaigner Desmond Clarke said it was "absolutely disgraceful" the report was "coming up with excuses to replace paid librarians with volunteers", and that overall the report was "remarkably unimaginative."

The report's four key recommendations are that libraries be run in partnership with the private sector, charities and other councils; that they be integrated with "other community facilities like churches, shops and village halls"; that back office services be shared; and that library users be given "the ability to play a more active role in running library services themselves".

Suffolk and Lewisham are among the councils being held up as examples for others to follow. Cllr Chris White, chair of the Local Government Association’s culture, tourism and sport board, said: “By breaking down the barriers of tradition, councils are bringing libraries into the 21st century and meeting the needs of a new generation of library users."

The report concluded: "Change will only happen if political leadership and professional expertise are harnessed in the same direction. Hence this publication is aimed at those leaders who will drive the change."

The Future Libraries Programme was set up a year ago with the backing of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport with the involvement of 36 library authorities with a brief to develop "innovative ways to modernise services". The Arts Council last week signalled its commitment to the continuation of the programme in partnership with the DCMS and the Local Government Group (LGG). The Arts Council said phase two of the programme would focus on long-term goals, with full details to be announced in September.