Public libraries. What does that conjure up in your mind? Vibrant spaces in the hearts of communities, light airy buildings filled with people? or gloomy old buildings, with a certain musty smell and quiet atmosphere?
As is usually the case with stereotypes, all of the elements mentioned above are present somewhere. There are modern, bustling libraries, where the thousands of people visiting each day are inspired and entertained, discover new information and learn new skills.
And there are places which are struggling – either because of financial pressures, unsuitable buildings, being in the wrong location or being part of a community who no longer needs what they are offering. Or, at least, no longer need what they perceive the library is offering - perception (not necessarily the reality) plays a strong role in much decision making around libraries. Building the evidence base to support informed decision making is one of the many areas the Libraries Taskforce is looking at.
The Leadership for Libraries Taskforce held its first meeting in March 2015, having been set up as one of the main recommendations from the Independent Library Report (published 18 December 2014). We report to the Local Government Association and Ministers (DCMS and DCLG) and will implement recommendations from the report and help to reinvigorate the public library service in England.
I was appointed as the Chief Executive of the Taskforce in March and started work at the end of April, hence why I get to write the first blog on our new site! Our Chair is Paul Blantern, the Chief Executive of Northamptonshire County Council. I’ll say a bit more about the wider membership of the Taskforce in my next blog….
Our agreed priorities are:
• Digital enablement – including the provision of universal WiFi access, e-lending, digital shared network and quality content
• Libraries adding value – making stronger, strategic links between libraries and other policies such as health and wellbeing and business and economic growth
• Best Practice – helping Local Authorities and library services through sharing and linking to existing/new best practice. Building sustainable long-term models for libraries/community hubs
• Workforce – skills needed to help the library workforce deliver these priorities and to take on new roles as part of wider service provision
• Communications – promoting the value of libraries and the work of the Taskforce, highlighting innovation and good ideas
Success so far
We have already helped to secure £7.4m to install WiFi in public libraries in England, £100,000 to pilot new approaches to building digital skills in socially excluded, hard to reach groups. We’ve made a clear commitment to support sector-led improvement by raising awareness and sharing examples of alternative delivery models amongst Portfolio Holders and Chief Executives in order to assist with the locally-led change process.
We aim to build consensus by working with people with shared agendas, talking to those who already have a programme of activities to promote and fight for their libraries. We will make sure their voices are heard by those who have the power to change things. We will support and amplify the most important messages with the intention of bringing balance to debate.