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Introducing the DCMS Libraries team

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We know that it’s not always clear to people in the libraries sector just what the DCMS Libraries Team does, so here’s a whistle-stop tour! 

Sitting in the Arts, Heritage and Tourism directorate at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, our team of seven works full time across a range of library issues. We are all civil servants and the purpose of our team is to inform and implement DCMS policy, support our ministers and act as sponsor for the British Library and The National Archives.

Annual Report

You can find out more about what we (and a number of library stakeholders) do in our Annual Reports to Parliament. This is a responsibility we have under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 (specifically section 17).


Underpinning everything we do, is supporting our Secretary of State (The Rt Hon Lucy Frazer KC MP) in her duties under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. She has a duty to superintend and promote the improvement of council library services in England. 

The Secretary of State is supported in that function by the Libraries Minister, Lord Parkinson, the Minister for Arts and Heritage. We support him in a variety of ways, including preparing briefings to support visits he makes or to inform meetings he has with representatives from across the sector. 

We also support our ministers in dealing with Parliamentary Questions, correspondence, debates and Freedom of Information (FoI) requests. This often requires us to work to tight timescales. For example, if we receive an Ordinary Written Question we have to respond within 48 hours. And ministers, quite rightly, expect swift responses to members of the public who take the time to write in. 

Libraries Strategy

The previous public libraries strategy Libraries Deliver: Ambition was the first ever English libraries strategy. It has been the foundation on which DCMS has built its advocacy and engagement, emphasising a need for government – at both central and local level – to ‘think libraries first’ in providing services and support to local communities; and also seeing libraries as an investment rather than a cost.

DCMS is now looking afresh at how the government can most effectively oversee, support and advocate for the sector with a view to developing a new Government strategy for public libraries in England. In September 2022, Baroness Sanderson was appointed as the independent chair of a new public libraries advisory panel to provide a fresh, and impartial perspective to help inform future work on a government strategy. See our blogs here, here and here about the work she has undertaken.

Lord Parkinson will consider her recommendations, and indicate which he would like the team to work on in the development of the new Government strategy. This will be drafted and consulted on during the autumn and winter, with a view to it being published in early 2024.


This statutory responsibility, under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, is largely delegated by the Secretary of State to the Libraries Minister, and we support them by investigating any complaints that are made about library services which people think are failing to meet their statutory duty. You can find out more about this in the guidance on Libraries as a Statutory Service. We also publish the Ministerial decision letters about representations that we have investigated.

However, that is only part of our superintendence work. We are really keen to talk to and visit library services who are at an early stage in considering changes (or are in the process of making changes) to their library service provision. This helps us understand what’s happening but also provides opportunities for councils to ask us questions. Sometimes we meet councils because they have contacted us; but other times we pick up the phone to talk to them because we’ve heard they’re planning changes, that a consultation is underway or being planned, or that a new strategy has been published.

Photo of the inside of a library with a spiral staircase
Ideas Store Whitechapel. Photo credit: Cheryl Shorter/DCMS Libraries


DCMS is responsible for public libraries policy. This means that we work within government to promote the value of libraries and what they deliver to decision makers. We talk to a wide range of people in different departments advocating for the strengths of libraries in supporting their agendas – whether that’s health and well-being, business support, skills, or supporting places like rural communities, high streets and towns.

Just one example: we worked closely with colleagues in Department for Education, and with specialists in the sector, to ensure that the role that public libraries (including School Library Services) can play in complementing the work that goes on in schools to develop reading for pleasure is recognised; this has been reflected in the recently published Reading Framework 

We also work closely with other parts of DCMS to promote the role of public libraries; for example the teams working on loneliness, and civil society. Most recently we worked with a team drawing up an interactive map showing free or low cost activities to help families over the summer period. All public library branches appeared on this. It has not only been made available on GOV.UK, but also via Money Saving Expert’s website.

Part of the Secretary of State’s statutory duty is to promote the improvement of the public library service provided by councils in England.  To support this, we monitor developments in library services across England and work with Arts Council England (ACE) which is the national development agency for libraries.


While public libraries are core funded through the Local Government Settlement there are opportunities through fiscal events (budgets and spending reviews) to secure additional investment. Most recently this has included:

Library byelaws

Councils can make byelaws regulating the use of library facilities that they run under the 1964 Act. DCMS has to confirm each set of library byelaws before they can come into effect.  Discussions with Libraries Connected about the potential for updating the existing model byelaws are in train. We will publish some new guidance to go alongside any revised version.

Public Lending Right

Authors have a legal right to be remunerated for registered books which are borrowed from public libraries, under legislation called the Public Lending Right Act 1979. This scheme is administered for us by the British Library. We work with the British Library to run a consultation on a revised rate per loan each year, seeking ministerial approval and amending the legislation through a Statutory Instrument. You can find out more about PLR by reading our blog post on it


Sponsorship is the activity that promotes and maintains an effective working relationship between departments and public bodies, based on accountability monitoring and performance monitoring, to supporting efficient and effective services to the public.  This could include aspects of finance, commercial, legal, operational and organisational management.

The British Library

DCMS sponsors the British Library, which is an arm’s length body of the department based in St Pancras, London and Boston Spa, West Yorkshire. As the British Library is primarily funded by the public through what is called Grant-in-Aid from DCMS, our  sponsorship role ensures the British Library is accountable in delivering its business plan and objectives as outlined in the Management Agreement with the department. We also have a support role in getting the British Library linked into policies and opportunities across government. 

For example, we help them put forward funding cases, such as that to build state-of-the-art storage at the British Library’s site in Boston Spa to grow and protect the national collections it holds on behalf of the nation. Or we help address particular issues such as giving the Library the freedom other sponsored museums and galleries have to borrow money. The British Library Board (Power to Borrow) Act  received Royal Assent in April 2021.

The National Archives

DCMS also sponsors The National Archives, which is based in Kew, South West London. The National Archives is a Non-Ministerial Department which acts as the lead Public Record Office for England and Wales. It holds government records and prints legislation. 

An important part of sponsoring The National Archives is handling the significant number of Freedom of Information (FOI) cases received and whether to release or withhold government records to the public. The Public Records Act requires central government departments, and certain other public bodies, to identify records of historical value and transfer them for permanent preservation to The National Archives, or to another appointed place of deposit, by the time they are 20 years old. There are particular cases when records are transferred or when the TNA receives an FOI that a DCMS Minister must be consulted. 

The DCMS Minister provides a consultation with support from The Advisory Council on National Records and Archives. The Council advises Ministers on government departments’ retention of records under the Freedom of Information Act. It represents the Public Interest in making decisions about whether Departments’ requests to close records rather than make them Public are acceptable under the exemptions to release included in the Act. 

Akin to our role sponsoring the British Library, we also have a support role in getting The National Archives linked into policies and opportunities across government, from levelling up to net zero. 


In order to carry out our statutory responsibilities we need to have a sound foundation of robust data about public libraries, however we know that this continues to be a significant challenge for the libraries sector. We have previously worked with the sector on a schema for the core dataset which we’ve blogged about in the past. We intend data to be a core part of our future work plan, and we continue to work with the sector to develop practical approaches to achieving this.


The last few years have been challenging for us all.  The Libraries Team worked closely with sector organisations such as Arts Council England (ACE), Libraries Connected (LC), CILIP, and the Community Managed Libraries Network during the pandemic to support and guide libraries through national restrictions.  Through the Library Services Working Group, a subset of the Cultural Recovery Taskforce, we advised on guidance to support the libraries sector responding to the COVID-19 crisis and we channelled information and queries to the Cabinet Office.

We made the case for libraries, meaning that even in the strictest lockdowns libraries could still provide access to essential services such as access to public computers, home and school library services.  We even ensured that library workers were classified as essential workers.

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