Libraries 'central' to nation’s culture strategy, campaigners make case to ACE

Libraries 'central' to nation’s culture strategy, campaigners make case to ACE

The Library Campaign (TLC) is appealing to Arts Council England (ACE) for funding and support in recognition that public libraries are “the bedrock of the nation’s entire culture strategy” following the consultation on ACE's 10-year strategy.

TLC, a charity set up to promote the improvement of libraries for users, said it was encouraged by an autumn blog post from ACE chair Nicholas Serota it said showed a deepening understanding from ACE of the role of public libraries, and it praised its report “Shaping the next 10 years” from which it gleaned a “widening focus beyond a narrow definition of ‘the arts’” from the body. TLC welcomed outcomes in ACE’s report such as its intention to invest in “the culture and creativity that are part of people’s everyday lives” and to factor in diversity as a criterion for policy and funding.

Referring to “ACE’s exciting new perception”, TLC wants to build on this by calling for “a fundamental re-orientation of ACE’s attitude to public libraries” so that it sees libraries “as central, and essential” to its whole approach to the arts. Whilst arguing libraries are “the most accessible cultural venue for all population groups” and “an irreplaceable ‘first step’ to every other aspect of the arts” - feasibly making libraries “the largest single contributor” to ACE’s ten-year aspirations - TLC urged ACE it “needs to address the current emergency in public libraries - their everyday funding and functioning. This has not, so far, been the case.”

TLC implored: “ACE has, up to now, dedicated far too little of its overall budget to literature, support for authors and events linked to literature. It is also widely perceived to have done too little to support libraries’ work in this area. This needs to be urgently reconsidered …

“We recognise that libraries’ statutory status may make it a little awkward to find ways to fund basic functions. Nevertheless, the current unprecedented situation means it is no longer possible to avoid grasping this nettle.”

On the heels of calls from the Society of Authors for ACE to help secure the future of the library service in response to its consultation, TLC's suggestions for support include “a major national publicity campaign”, aimed at the public and decision-markers, championing libraries; although there have been campaigns in this area in the recent past, it reasoned in favour of another “a much stronger approach is needed”. With 20 suggestions made in total by TLC, it also recommended “an acknowledged role for, and support for, library users and campaigners as ACE’s partners”, and for frontline library staff, which would influence policy; and “more funding for library work in general” with “a clearly articulated message that cuts to library services are endangering the whole basis of a civilised society”.

TLC plumped for specific grants supporting special collections in art, music, drama; ACE-funded posts for arts development officers in public libraries; ACE-funded posts for schools arts liaison in libraries; ACE-funded posts for arts outreach via libraries; and training in arts awareness, management and development for library staff. It advocated further: “A far larger proportion of ACE’s budget should be devoted to literature (currently a derisory 3.5%). In particular, far more funding for author visits, storytelling, books-related performances, poetry jams, local book prizes, literature festivals etc. Much of this would logically be channelled through libraries.”

ACE has been contacted for comment. The timeline for the development of ACE's 10-year strategy for 2020-2030 can be found here.