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This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

Towards a public library skills strategy: workshops

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Events, Libraries Deliver: how we'll achieve this

[Editorial note: This post was written by pulling together feedback from the different people who ran the workshops, and conversations with Alison Wheeler and Mandy Powell who are leading the process to develop the public library skills strategy on behalf of the Society of Chief Librarians and CILIP respectively. It is the 7th and final post which reports the outputs of workshops run during the recent sector forums.]


As mentioned in our earlier post, we offered a range of workshops during our sector forums in Newcastle, London, Bristol and Birmingham. In the latter 3 venues, not all the people at the event could attend all the sessions, so the Taskforce is using this series of blog posts to enable everyone to see the presentations and get a flavour of the discussions that took place. This workshop, which looked at the emerging public library skills strategy, was held 9 times, in 3 locations, and over 120 people took part. Each was led by a different member of the working group: Alison Wheeler (Chief Executive of Suffolk libraries), Sue Wills (then head of service in Poole) and Tracey Cox (head of libraries, arts & information services in Solihull).

Alison Wheeler’s workshop. Photo credit: Alice Corble
Alison Wheeler’s workshop. Photo credit: Alice Corble

Workshop content

The session started off with a brief presentation, which explained the context and described work done so far. The goal is to create a co-ordinated approach to the development of the public library workforce which will inform the learning and development offer that local authorities provide to their library workforce and volunteers, councillors and senior officers. The strategy should contain recommended actions for CILIP, SCL, local authorities, individuals and other key stakeholders. The aims are to deliver a strategy which:

  • promotes leadership at every level of the workforce
  • supports delivery of outstanding customer service
  • explores continuing development for all library workers
  • looks at how to attract and retain the best talent
  • understands and plans for the learning and development needs of all - library workers, volunteers and key stakeholders

Presenters outlined some of the areas considered by the working group, which included looking at the operating environment - including the trends shaping UK jobs and skills, and disruptions which could radically change the future of work, leading to specific issues which affect the public library sector. They considered data about how the workforce was changing (building on the CILIP workforce survey) and looked at what attracts people to library work (and placed that in context with what attracts people to particular companies or sectors in general).

They also looked at the learning and development needs of specific roles within the sector, including leaders, managers, specialists or experts, front of house staff, volunteers, and councillors. They also looked in more detail at the diverse types of volunteers currently active in libraries. They looked at the CILIP Professional Knowledge and Skills Base, and heard from the health libraries sector about work they have done to tailor this to their specific needs.


Participants were given extracts from the recommendations and asked for their feedback on the elements considered and to rank them in order of priority.

Key suggestions arising from the discussion included:

  • Leadership is key
  • Need to establish what sort of leadership is required. Management skills also important and are different
  • Need to define role and purpose of the library and core competencies. Don’t necessarily require qualifications
  • Qualifications don’t always equip people for every situation but they must be valued
  • Recommend a skills matrix-approach from both an organisational and personal perspective for motivation and successful outcomes
  • The scope must include social justice and the ways library staff work with the marginalised, which isn’t strong enough in the Libraries Deliver document
  • Would national standards be a positive tool with which to advocate to employers?
  • There are opportunities for everyone to reach for, like the Clore scholarships
  • Good recruitment is vital
  • Motivating staff is the key to success, as is building pride in the library service from within as this delivers the right behaviours
  • There needs to be a volunteering strategy for libraries
  • Resourcing this strategy properly is essential
  • There was concern we are not attracting young people into the profession, and people were keen to tackle this issue

There was particular feedback on the skills map:

  • Empathy for all types of library user [countered by the comment: Not sure Empathy is a skill you can teach – more of an aptitude]
  • Understanding of different communities’ and individuals’ social issues and the impact these will have on their use (and non-use) of libraries
  • Understanding of local ‘politics’, eg the inter-relationship between different community groups, and how they may relate to the library service and local authority
  • Understanding of both the national political scene and the national ‘library scene’, and what impact this will have on local services

When discussing the priorities for the recommendations, each group had a slightly different take. However, the top five priorities across all groups were:

  • Leadership development at every level
  • Pathways of skills development and opportunities for all
  • Advocacy packages on the library dividend to employers, to stakeholders and for new entrants
  • The development of a competency framework linked to a skills matrix
  • Taking personal responsibility for continuing professional development (CPD)

What happens next?

Next steps are for the project leads to prepare a final version of the strategy for their respective organisations to sign off. It was also presented to the meeting of the Libraries Taskforce last week for comment.

Once all are content, it will be published both on the CILIP and SCL websites, and an implementation plan will be created. When it is launched, a communications plan will ensure that all stakeholders are aware of and support the strategy.

If you have any views to share on this topic, please either email either of the project leads, who are listed on this page on the CILIP website, or leave a comment below.

To keep up to date with Taskforce activities, remember to follow us on twitter, or subscribe to our blogs.

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