[Editor's note: John Glen MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, shares his thoughts on Libraries Week - and reflects on libraries he has visited around the country since starting his role.]
It has been wonderful to see the celebrations around the country to mark National Libraries Week, with so many local people taking up opportunities to get involved.
I had the pleasure of doing so myself when I visited Pimlico Library as part of the Worlds of Possibilities festival running across libraries in London. This festival was delivered by the Association of London Chief Librarians and supported by funding from Arts Council England, to showcase cultural and artistic activities in public libraries. At the library I joined local children from Pimlico Academy, as author Smriti Prasadam-Halls and poet Tommy Sissons led sessions that demonstrated how enjoyable and powerful the written word can be whatever your age. I have no doubt the children attending went away full of ideas and that they will come back to discover more.
When I became the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism earlier this year I was delighted that this included the portfolio for public libraries in England. During my own life - as a child, a student, and an adult – I’ve experienced how libraries can help support, develop and excite. They provide incredible resources for everyone in our communities: allowing people to discover books and a love of reading; giving access to learning, knowledge and research; supporting digital inclusion through free wifi and computers, and enabling people to live happier and healthier lives.
I’ve seen this demonstrated when visiting a number of libraries across England to find out about the challenges, successes and possibilities for the sector. In my first week as Minister, I visited Salisbury Library, in my own constituency, and learnt about the work of Wiltshire Libraries, including its support for local people to develop their skills and find work. I also took part in a RhymeTime session for children and parents, and it was great to see the library users of the future being encouraged at such a young age.
I’ve been hugely impressed by the range of services delivered by public libraries, the contribution the sector is making to local communities, and the positive impact it has on so many people’s lives. I take seriously my Department’s role to superintend and promote the importance of public libraries, and I am determined to champion and support them as best I can. I have therefore already written to recently elected Members of Parliament and to the directly elected Mayors of Combined Authorities, to highlight the important contribution of libraries in their local areas.
Supporting the sector
I will also ensure that DCMS and the Libraries Taskforce work with the sector, taking action where needed and making available support, leadership and advice for library services. Building on “Libraries Deliver: Ambition”, the vision for libraries published in December 2016, the Taskforce is providing information, tools and masterclasses to help library services to plan and develop. We have also supported library services through our Libraries: Opportunities for Everyone fund, managed by Arts Council England, to enable pilots of innovative libraries projects that benefit disadvantaged people and places in England. I look forward to seeing these projects progress through the year and to sharing the learning with others.
One such project is ‘Big Ideas Generators’, supporting people and businesses across Greater Manchester. I heard more about this when I recently visited Manchester Central Library and in touring this fantastic library I saw how it delivers across many of my ministerial responsibilities – through the range of books and resources, special collections including the Henry Watson Music Library, digital facilities and creative opportunities, as well as the important heritage and archive material. I also learned more about the Council’s strategy to transform Manchester’s libraries in recent years as well as the work of the Society of Chief Librarians across England.
Another example of a Council seeking to develop its service for local people can be found at Liverpool Central Library, which I visited in the summer. I saw how the historic library has been preserved with the retention of its beautiful reading room and collections of rare books, while the building has also been refurbished and remodelled to provide modern facilities in an inspiring building.
Both Manchester Central Library and Liverpool Central Library provide a Business and Intellectual Property Centre, in partnership with the British Library and a network of eight other Centres. When I visited the British Library I was struck by the important work these libraries do to provide people from diverse backgrounds with access to information and advice to start and grow their businesses. This is just one of many examples of libraries providing practical support and guidance, and helping people to improve their opportunities.
These are just a few examples of how hugely important libraries are as places of aspiration, where people can have enriching experiences.
I would like to congratulate CILIP and everyone across the sector involved in organising National Libraries Week, including Arts Council England, Society of Chief Librarians, The Reading Agency, Libraries Taskforce and many other partners. Particular thanks also go to the library staff and the supporters of libraries whose dedication and energy has made it a success and who ensure that libraries provide such an important service to communities.
I hope that National Libraries Week continues to be built upon and that it encourages more people to visit library services and experience the wonderful things that libraries have to offer.