CILIP and membership organisation Libraries Connected are investigating a new roadmap for public libraries as part of an initiative exploring how libraries could be funded, managed and delivered in the years ahead.
Established with a view to securing "a stronger future for public libraries" across England, the project will kick off with an initial scoping study that is being backed by the Carnegie UK Trust, the foundation set up by the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who funded 600 libraries in the UK and more than 2000 worldwide.
Carnegie UK Trust's c.e.o., Martyn Evans, said that although more than three-quarters of the population would say libraries are vital to the local community, people’s needs and expectations were changing rapidly. At the same time, public money is less readily available, and this needed considering.
"Libraries need to identify how they can respond to these demands most effectively," he said. "Part of this debate is to identify the best funding and governance arrangements for the library service and we look forward to working with partners to identify a number of options."
The study will gather the views of key stakeholders and will look at contrasting models for public library delivery internationally, including those found in Northern Ireland, Australia, the US, the Netherlands and Finland. "These countries all have a strong public library ethos but their services are delivered, managed and funded in different ways", said Libraries Connected.
The results of the study will be available next year and will inform a funding bid for "a major transformation programmme" beginning summer 2019.
Mark Freeman, president for Libraries Connected, said it was "determined to do everything we can to protect existing services" in the wake of the significant cuts that have taken place in recent year. "This project gives us the opportunity to deliver a strategic, long term solution to secure the future of public libraries in partnership with CILIP and Carnegie UK Trust," he said.
Nick Poole, c.e.o. for CILIP, said: "It is time for a library renaissance, where much-loved public libraries are revitalised and transformed through investment to create scalable and inclusive services. We want to transform lives through modern libraries in communities across the country. I would like to thank Carnegie UK Trust for funding this first, important stage towards making this a reality, and Libraries Connected for partnering with us to create a bright future for our libraries and communities."
Commenting on the new initiative, campaigner and former Waterstones boss Tim Coates warned the study must differentiate itself from others that haven’t engaged with the issue of why library service usage is in such serious decline. "Such an explanation - honestly and believably expressed, is desperately needed. We will not be able to solve the problems of the library service if we continue to deny that they exist,” said Coates.
He added that, in his view, funding was less an issue than how the money allocated to libraries was being “inefficiently” spent to the detriment of the service."[The initiative] already presumes too much that the issues are about funding and 'changing expectations' - when those are probably not the biggest problems at all. Another reasonable interpretation of the current situation may be that over many years the library service changed in ways that people didn't want, and that funding is adequate but spent inefficiently.
"My own view, from the consumer research I have seen, is that the heart of the problem lies very simply in the poor stock of books and reading material, short opening hours and old fashioned service and presentation of the libraries. At the same time, too, much money is spent on needless overhead. We should not over complicate the matter."
Earlier this month, campaigners expressed their anger and frustration following the government’s rejection of a petition to ringfence funding for public libraries. Although the petition had received backing from high-profile names including JK Rowling, the Government responded that "ultimately, decisions about resource prioritisation for libraries sit with local authorities". Another blow came last week when 25 of Essex's public libraries were earmarked for closure within the next five years; justifying its proposals, the council in question cited statistics that usage of the county's libraries had fallen by 31% over the past decade.
CIPFA is due to present its annual data and statistics on library usage next month.