Vaizey sets up Sieghart's library task force

Vaizey sets up Sieghart's library task force

Libraries minister Ed Vaizey has created a new task force to help develop the library service in England, at the recommendation of today's Sieghart report.

Vaizey said the creation of the task force would be the "immediate first step" to implementing the suggestions made in the report, which focuses on improving libraries' digital services, and creating a national digital network, funded by central government. Vaizey said the government was "committed to taking forward the report's key recommendations", but did not say if the government would commit to this specific funding.

In his statement, made as the report was entered at parliament today (18th December), Vaizey said: "We welcome the panel's recommendations, which are being considered in detail. I am taking the immediate first step in partnership with local government to set up the joint task force to advise on implementation of the recommendations which will be chaired by Dr Paul Blantern, chief executive of Northamptonshire County Council. He will be supported by a range of experts with an interest in libraries. This task force will report both to ministers and the Local Government Association and the first meeting is due to take place in spring 2015."

He went on to say: "I whole-heartedly support the public library service which has been making a vital contribution to the knowledge, delight and quality of life of communities in every part of England for more than 150 years. They are a cherished part of our cultural heritage, and a key player in our future."

Meanwhile today's report has been broadly endorsed by a number of groups, though campaigners have urged that action must be taken to ensure it does not become one of the many previous reviews which have had little or no impact.

Laura Swaffield, chair of the Library Campaign, welcomed "the report's insight that library services – despite heavy cuts and official ignorance – are still widely used and often offer innovative, impressive services."

However, she said she was disappointed that the government had not committed to any funding suggested in the report. She said: "Setting up a task force to meet in spring is not exactly leaping into action. The question is, where is the money - in government terms, the cash to improve Wi-fi at libraries is peanuts. I feel that Sieghart has been very tactful, in the hopes of prompting the government to action, but I don't know if it will be successful."

Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publishers Association (PA), said he backed the report's call for greater government funding. He said: "The Sieghart Report captures the vital importance of the public library service and the urgent need for action to sustain it.  The PA fully supports the Report’s call for greater government funding, and its focus on the development of a national digital library network to help libraries provide new services and develop new audience." Mollet added: “However, with the publication of the report coinciding with today’s announcement on local government budgets, it amplifies the need for policy and budget for public libraries to be brought together in one single Department.”

Ciara Eastell, president of the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL), agreed that funding was necessary, saying: "The SCL endorsed the report's recommendations," and adding that they "would have welcomed a commitment to investment in public libraries to support the reader."

Sue Wilkinson, chief executive of the Reading Agency, welcomed the report, and said: "We all hoped that the report would come with investment; given the tough economic climate we currently live in we recognise that it is not going to be easy to resource the recommendations outlined here. What we very much hope is that national and local government will recognise the case Sieghart is making for sustained engagement with a service which can and does have a critical role to play in creating literate, connected, employable, healthy, happy and engaged communities."

Sir Peter Bazalgette, chair of Arts Council England, also voiced his support for the review, saying: "William Sieghart and his Panel have made an important contribution by highlighting the challenges faced by our library services, and the steps Government could take to ensure that they fulfil their potential.  We must never lose sight of the huge numbers of people who use and depend on libraries, they are highly valued by the communities they serve."

However, former Waterstones m.d. Tim Coates criticised the report for not focusing on the issue of library book stock. He said: "It's not about digital technologies - it's not about cups of coffee - it's not about changing copyright laws so that authors become even more deprived than they are now -  it's not about anything except more books in libraries. So we have another report which does the two things everybody said not to do  - don't write a waffly report about golden threads [Sieghart describes libraries as "a golden thread throughout our lives"] and don't ask for money."