Sieghart Review to recommend task force for libraries

Sieghart Review to recommend task force for libraries

The eagerly-awaited Sieghart Review on the public library service will argue for a dedicated task force involving "all key players working together" to deliver changes at "a fast pace", a panel member has revealed.

Public policy consultant Sue Charteris, talking at the Speak Up for Libraries campaign conference in London today (Saturday 22nd November), said she hoped publication of the already-completed report was "just weeks away" and declared that its appearance would be "very exciting".

Charteris is a member of the panel chaired by philanthropist William Sieghart, and also comprising author Joanna Trollope, Faber c.e.o. Stephen Page, literary agent Caroline Michel, British Library chief Roly Keating, Society of Chief Librarians president Janene Cox and former Channel 4 chairman Luke Johnson. The report is currently with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and confirmation of a publication date is eagerly awaited, not least because of hints revealed by the chair at recent library events.

Charteris said that when she accepted the conference speaking slot she had anticipated the report would already be available, but was prepared to discuss certain elements. "A key theme was, 'Please do not give us another tome to prop open the door or sit on a shelf,' so we have focused on practical initiatives to make a difference in the near future," she said. 

The importance of libraries' digital offer and the "intense demands on frontline staff" to help patrons with online job applications, homework, and benefit applications, is also a key element in the report. Persuading opinion-formers of the benefits of the library service is also vital, Charteris said. "There are superb efforts made by many here to take a championing role, but many of us have trouble convincing opinion-formers that libraries are still needed, that we are not just defending the past," she commented, recalling an instance when she was told by a senior local authority figure, "I hope you're not here to talk about libraries again. Isn't it time you got a life?" 

"The argument for saving [library] buildings has been won, but not for a [library] service able to deliver its promise," she told the conference. "The case has not yet been made for libraries to be the delivery point for a number of key services. The time is now - if most local authorities are somehow managing to hang on to the building infrastructure, how are we going to make this work?"

Charteris went on: "In sum, we are worried that the very localness of local libraries glued to their local communities is also a vulnerability to the development of a connected services everyone thinks is key. There is a need for constructive partnerships with communities, based on mutual support and trust. We've seen what goes wrong when it's 'us' and 'them'....We want to see a nationally led drive to update connectivity in libraries; a push for training, accelerating libraries' work in digital inclusion and community enablement; clear guidelines for community involvement; and an effort to share and mark good practice. The report will argue for a dedicated task force with all the key players to work together to deliver changes at a fast pace...and promote a consistent message that talks the service up."

Charteris added the report had been influenced by the national strategy for libraries employed in Ireland as well as the recent review for Wales.