Sieghart reveals task force digital ambitions

Sieghart reveals task force digital ambitions

The Leadership for Libraries task force is backed by £250,000 funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, will look for more funding from trusts and foundations, and hopes to appoint a "brilliant" chief executive in addition to chair Paul Blantern, William Sieghart has revealed.

Speaking at a Westminster Briefing event, The Future of Local Libraries, in London yesterday (19th March), Sieghart praised Blantern, Northampton County Council's chief executive, whom he described as "plainly a doer...who knows how to get best practice spread." He also said: "I have high hopes we will get an announcement as to who will be the chief executive of this task force - and it is one of the most impressive people I've met." 

The Leadership for Libraries task force was set up following publication of The Independent Library Report for England, produced by a panel chaired by Sieghart. 

Repeating his warning that the service was at a "Beeching moment", Sieghart said that the digital world was "possibly the saving grace for the library movement". He celebrated the £7.4m awarded for library wi-fi services in this week's Budget and an announcement this week that BT and Barclays are to team up to provide free wi-fi and hand-on digital support at 57 libraries and 13 community centres in deprived areas across England. Barclays Digital Eagles staff will provide free technology advice as part of the venture.

Sieghart told the conference: "I would hope within 18 months every library in the country - including community libraries - will have wi-fi....The government and the task force will [also] look at big corporations making donations of kit - tablets, screens, keyboards etc." He added: "The BBC is keen to help because the BBC is offering a lot through digital services."

The task force, which includes BBC head of arts Jonty Claypole, met for the first time earlier this month.  

Ciara Eastell, president of the Society of Chief Libraries (SCL) and also a task force member, said the SCL had worked very hard to help the DCMS get the business case together for the £7.4m wi-fi budget."We need to think about the potential of what we do with that wi-fi once it is in," she said. "We need to seize opportunities to think boldly about what wi-fi can do, and build partnerships with the BBC and the British Library, and align it with the ACE Digital Fund. I'm also keen to talk to DCMS about funding an innovation strand within that £7.4m." 

She added: "There is work being done around what a single digital presence for libraries would look like. Think of the potential a national presence could have, in attracting people to libraries...a national platform that connects to local."

Meanwhile Sieghart said the public library service also needed an intranet as part of its digital resource, to help libraries communicate best practice to one another.