Libraries and campaigners have to be "realistic" about what future libraries can offer as funding cuts mean the Libraries Taskforce is "having to make some trade-offs I'm not thrilled about," its c.e.o Kathy Settle said.
Settle was speaking at the Speak Up For Libraries Conference on Saturday (14th November).
She said: "There is no agreement whatsoever about what success for public libraries would like" as there is a "shocking" lack of data available to give a comprehensive overview.
Ruth Cashman from Lambeth Unison said: "I think that’s a bit disingenuous. I think we all agree that all communities should have a local library and that there should be more libraries and better libraries, and they should have longer opening hours and they should have staff and have all of the services. And you might say, 'well, choices have to be made', but that doesn’t mean we don’t know what success looks like. That means that you’re telling us that we can’t have success.”
Settle said that she “fully” supported this vision of success, but that the Taskforce had to be realistic about what can be achieved due to funding cuts. She said: “What we’re having to also deal with is... when we talk to local authority chief executives who say 'we’d love to do that but we haven’t got the money, so what do we do?' We have to add an element of realism to that. We’re trying to get as close to that [vision] as possible. That means having some trade-offs that I’m not really thrilled about.”
Another campaigner argued that the Taskforce needed to acknowledge "the real fact" that the network of libraries "that has been built up over the last hundred years is being decimated at the moment." He said: "That is the crucial leadership issue you need to be taking on.”
Chair of the Taskforce, Paul Blantern, told campaigners: "If you didn't have the taskforce co-ordinating a voice for libraries, then you'd have one less significant tank in your armoury."
Settle added: “We have acknowledged the libraries are being closed and hours are being reduced, we’ve made no secret of that. All we’re saying is that the messages about that need to be balanced with positive messages of what libraries are doing as well. Otherwise, I think, we’re doing ourselves a great disservice.”
She also said that the reputation that libraries have are “second to none.” She added: “Loads of organisations would kill for that. The trust, the safeness, the security. It’s a brilliant reputation.”
The "incredibly precious" role of libraries was referenced by Nick Poole, c.e.o. of CILIP, in his opening speech. He said: "Our libraries are changing lives for the better."
"We are all trying to fight for the same thing, even if we have a different view of the tactics," he said. "The simple fact is that we should never have to be in the position of defending people’s right to benefit from a quality library service. In an enlightened society, that right should be inalienable. Lest we forget – we are the third largest economy in Europe, possibly the second, and the seventh largest in the world. This isn’t about money, it’s about ideology."
Poole also announced that CILIP will launch a campaign of "support and solidarity for the library and information professionals” on the 25th November to coincide with the 2015 Autumn Spending Review. He said: "Our aim with this campaign is to raise national awareness of the value and impact of library and information professionals and to lobby for policy to protect and promote their interests."