John Glen has been announced as the new libraries minister at the department of media, culture and sport (DCMS) following the departure of former minister Rob Wilson who lost his seat in last week's general election.
Glen was first elected to parliament as the MP for Salisbury in 2010 and was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Treasury Secretary Philip Hammond from July 2016 until June 2017. He has become minister for arts, heritage and tourism with responsibility for libraries. The libraries brief was previously part of the office for civil society.
While campaigners expressed concern about previous libraries' minister Wilson's attitude towards volunteers, he was praised for showing "greater willingness to use statutory powers to hold local authorities to account" than previous ministers.
Karen Bradley MP is to continue as secretary of state for DCMS. Under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act it is the DCMS secretary of state who ultimately is responsible for the stewardship and improvement of public library services in England.
Nick Poole, chief executive of CILIP, the library and information association, told The Bookseller that he expects Glen to bring "fresh perspective" to the libraries brief and "greater focus" on evidence-based policy making due to his previous experience as a political researcher.
Poole added: "There are some natural fits with public libraries across John’s brief – particularly the National Archives, culture, heritage and museums – and in addition to these areas we would like to work with the minister and his team to improve the profile and understanding of the importance of the sector across a range priority areas and departments including skills, health and strengthening communities.”
Alan Gibbons, author and library campaigner praised the move of the libraries brief to within the arts and heritage remit, saying it is a "better fit". He added that the response to the general election has proved that the public want to put an end to cuts to public services. "The General Election was an expression of public discontent with austerity and the remorseless undermining of public services. We need a public library service that is properly funded, puts the book at the forefront and values the role of a properly paid and trained librarian", Gibbons said.
Meanwhile, Ian Anstice, librarian and editor of Public Libraries News, suggested that the libraries brief may be better suited under education.
He said: "With regards to the move from Civil Society to Arts, that ties in the government thinking that we have been used to, and is the same mind-set which decided that Arts Council England would manage grants for libraries. ACE have been brilliant, and there is excellent work going on in libraries under their auspices, but there also needs to be an understanding of the powerful role libraries have in education and other vital areas."
He added that Glen needs to "demonstrate that he will intervene if any local authorities decides to cut their library service below the level that can reasonably be described as 'comprehensive and efficient'." He said: "There have been example in the past where deep reductions have been waved through by the minister. That has to stop or the sector will continue to be seen as an easy touch by local councils. It cannot, and should not, be left to local people to shoulder the burden of the minister by protesting. One serious intervention would take a lot of pressure off."
Campaigner Tim Coates added that Glen faces a "huge task" with the libraries brief. "The service is collapsing very quickly and the [Libraries] Taskforce has proved to be utterly ineffective... he seriously has his work cut out with very little time in hand", he said.