When we talk to people in the sector we often find out that they are unclear about what the DCMS Libraries team does, so we thought it might be helpful to give you some idea about the range of work we tackle. We are not a large team (there are 6 of us working full time altogether) but we cover a wide variety of issues. The team I lead sits in the Arts, Heritage and Tourism directorate. We are all civil servants and the purpose of our team is to inform and implement DCMS policy, support our ministers and the British Library.
The Libraries Minister is Caroline Dinenage, the Minister for Digital and Culture. We support her by doing things like preparing briefings to support visits she may make or to inform meetings she has with representatives from across the sector. For example, last week Caroline Dinenage visited the British Library where she learned more about its statutory duties as a legal deposit library as well as its collaboration with public libraries through the Living Knowledge Network and Business and Intellectual Property Centres (BIPCs).
We also support our ministers in dealing with Parliamentary Questions, correspondence, debates and Freedom of Information 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.
Underpinning everything we do, is supporting our Secretary of State (Oliver Dowden) in their duties under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act. They have a duty to superintend, and promote the improvement of council library services. But what does that mean in practice?
This responsibility is largely delegated from the Secretary of State to the Libraries minister. We support them in investigating any complaints that are made about library services that people think are failing to meet their statutory duty. You can find out more about this in the guidance we published last year. We also publish the letters that we sent about representations that we investigated.
However, that is only part of our superintendence work. We’re 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 any questions. Sometimes we meet councils because they have contacted us; but other times we pick up the phone to talk to them because we have heard they are planning changes, that a consultation is running or that a new strategy has been published.
Local authorities can make byelaws regulating the use of library facilities run by each council under the 1964 Act. The department has to confirm each set of library byelaws before they can come into effect.
We have just started working with Libraries Connected on updating the existing model byelaws, and we will be publishing some new guidance to go alongside these. We'll blog more on this soon.
Public Lending Right
Every author has a legal right to be remunerated for registered books which are borrowed from public libraries, under legislation called the Public Lending Right. 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 recent blog post on it.
DCMS sponsors the British Library, which is an arm’s length body of the department (like the Arts Council). We have a sponsorship role as most of its funding comes from DCMS Grant in Aid. This is to ensure the British Library is accountable in delivering its business plan and objectives as outlined in the Management Agreement. We also have a support role, in getting the British Library linked into policies and opportunities across government.
So, for example, we may help them in putting forward funding cases, such as the announcement in the budget of £95 million for the British Library’s Boston Spa site. Or we help address particular issues such as giving it the freedom other sponsored museums and galleries have to borrow money. The Power to Borrow bill is currently progressing through Parliament as a Private Members Bill.
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 high streets and towns.
Just one recent example: we worked with the Department for Education to promote the role of libraries on early years speech and language development. This helped make sure that its Hungry Little Minds campaign, which aims to improve early literacy and language skills in the years before children start school was launched with input and representation from the library sector.
We also work closely with other parts of DCMS to promote the role of public libraries; for example the Digital Skills Team (we recently led a session at a cross-government group on digital inclusion, alongside Leeds libraries), our Online Harms Team (on their developing media literacy strategy), and the Inclusive Economy Unit (on governance models). We are also playing a part in wider DCMS work focussing on youth policy and on a growing range of place-based work.
We also co-sponsor the Libraries Taskforce along with the Local Government Association. Since it was established in 2015 it has brought library sector organisations together, providing leadership to the sector, sharing good practice and helping to reinvigorate the public library service. Although the Taskforce winds up its work at the end of March 2020 DCMS is funding Arts Council England for a transition period to establish a sector body to take forward certain workstreams during 2020 to 2021; and we will also be continuing to lead on certain workstreams ourselves, covering data (see below) and future strategy.
While public libraries are funded by the Local Government Finance Settlement there are opportunities through fiscal events (budgets and spending reviews) to secure additional investment. This includes most recently £13 million for the British Library’s BIPCs and the £125 million Cultural Investment Fund as well as the £4m Libraries: Opportunities for Everyone innovation fund in 2017/18.
We’re also working with the sector on developing a schema for the core dataset. We’ve just finished some initial testing with a group of library services and will be blogging about the outcomes of that shortly.
You can find out more about what we (and a number of library stakeholders) do in our Annual Reports to Parliament. This is another of our responsibilities under the 1964 Act (specifically section 17).