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Our first six months

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Today we’ve published our first six month progress report. This was one of the commitments we made to Ministers (via the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)) and the Local Government Association (LGA) at our first meeting in March 2015. The report covers our activity from April to September 2015 and contains:

  • an update on the Taskforce’s achievements
  • a summary of existing Taskforce activity
  • proposed next steps and areas of focus over the next six months

Some of our big highlights were:

  • £7.4 million of funding (announced in Budget 2015) to enable universal WiFi coverage in public libraries in England. Once installation is complete by the end of March 2016, 99% of libraries will be able to provide free WiFi access to their users
  • the announcement of funding of £100,000, in partnership with the Tinder Foundation, to pilot new approaches in 16 public library services in England to building digital skills in socially excluded, hard to reach groups
  • helping to secure £400,000 funding for Enterprising Libraries from the British Library, Arts Council England and the Department for Communities and Local Government which has helped six city libraries establish hubs in their buildings for small businesses and entrepreneurs
  • the Chief Executive and Chair meeting with government departments and local authorities to highlight the value of libraries and how they support their communities in areas such as: increasing literacy; getting online and building their digital skills; creating new / expanding existing businesses, managing their health and wellbeing.
Libraries around England
Libraries around England. From top left, clockwise: Peckham, Brighton, Newcastle and Warwick. Photo credit: Libraries Taskforce

We’re really pleased with how much has already been achieved by the collective actions of Taskforce members and with support from a wide range of partners.. The new investment that has been secured will make a real difference to communities who visit libraries 234 million times every year. Providing free WiFi in 99% of public libraries across England not only enables anybody with a personal device to get online but, more importantly, it supports online access and training for those people who are currently digitally excluded.

But there is still lots to do….

We are producing a toolkit for local authorities with examples of good practice and exploring opportunities for smarter ways of working, including co-location and shared public services where this makes sense and would provide more joined-up services for citizens.

We also need to continue our efforts on communications to ensure the many positive benefits of the modern library service are widely understood and supported by national and local government, in addition to the public who use libraries on a daily basis.

In light of these continued demands, we were particularly pleased to receive confirmation from DCMS yesterday that funding for the Taskforce will continue to be available for the next four years if required.

What’s next

In our report, we have recommended to DCMS and LGA (our joint sponsors) that they produce a document that sets out the Government’s and the Taskforce’s shared vision for public libraries in England, including how it would be achieved and add value. Our intention is that this document would:

  • provide a shared direction and purpose
  • highlight existing good practice
  • provide a focus for collaborative action to address the challenges libraries currently face

All the while, recognising the need for local democratic accountability.

I am pleased to report that this recommendation has been accepted - you can read the response from Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy here. Our next post will be from Simon Richardson, head of the libraries team in DCMS, who will set out DCMS's plans for this, to ensure views are gathered from all the people and groups who are interested.

Our next official progress report isn’t until March 2016 but, in the meantime, we’ll be keeping everyone up to date on what the Taskforce is up to here and via twitter.

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