Giving public libraries strong leadership and commitment

Act Now by Michael Tapp Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

A strong public library service is the foundation of a literate and inclusive society and a competitive knowledge economy. Great local libraries are an investment in communities, providing a cost effective way to improve health, support business start-ups, improve literacy and skills, and do all of this in a way that is open to all.

In the past twelve months alone, CILIP staff, Trustees and the Presidential Team have talked to and worked with hundreds of local communities campaigning to save or reduce cuts to their libraries, in places like Swindon, Berkshire, Birmingham, Lambeth and too many others. We have seen the alarm raised by Peers in the House of Lords debate about how the lack of support for libraries is accelerating the UK’s literacy and skills crisis. We have heard from 30,000 UK consumers who believe local library services should be protected for the benefit of everyone in our society. We have seen a national public demonstration supported by the Labour Party. And we have worked with the BBC and others to highlight the scale of public library losses. 

CILIP’s My Library By Right campaign holds Local and National Government to account for their statutory duty to promote the improvement of library services for all. As the UK’s lead organisation for the library and information profession, we are pleased to set out our 10 ‘key principles’ for the leadership and development of public library services in England over the next 5 years.

We now call on responsible government departments and the national bodies who are fellow members of the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce to make a public declaration of their commitment to public libraries in England by supporting our principles and working with us to ensure they are reflected in the implementation of the upcoming Ambition for Public Libraries in England.

We challenge our Government to provide targeted emergency relief funding in next week’s Autumn Statement.  This need is echoed by Lord John Bird in his address to the House of Lords last month: “Libraries are essential, yet what is happening is that they are being cut. I recommend that Her Majesty’s Government supply some emergency relief money to stop local authorities doing this dastardly deed, this process of philistinising our communities.”

As well as emergency relief funding we need ongoing financial support for Local Authorities. We also need to strengthen national development support for libraries, consider all options and carry out realistic long-term planning when considering transferring library services into community ownership, and have a robust national plan for developing and improving libraries.

If we don’t take urgent, collective action to deliver these key principles we will fail to meet local needs and national priorities.

We will add the details of the national bodies who pledge their commitment to this blog post.

Key principles

As the UK’s lead organisation for the library and information profession, CILIP is calling on HM Government, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Local Government Association, the Arts Council England and fellow members of the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce to support our Principles for the Leadership and Development of Public Library Services in England:

  1. England’s public libraries are part of a successful network which delivers key outcomes including learning, health and wellbeing, digital inclusion, civic participation and stronger local economies.
  2. Securing these outcomes for the long-term depends on effective leadership through a fully-funded and evidence-based National Public Library Plan for England that is owned jointly by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Local Government Association.
  3. Implementing this plan requires appropriate governance of the library network, including partnerships for local delivery, regional and national support and with appropriate engagement with the equivalent strategies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  4.  It also requires a national strategy for the development of the professional library workforce alongside the appropriate use of volunteers.
  5. Effective national support for the library network requires an appropriately-resourced and mandated national development function, the responsibilities of which should include quality standards, targeted investment and development support and a transparent approach to monitoring and impact evaluation.
  6. HM Treasury must make available to Local Authorities emergency relief funding and transitional support to ensure they are adequately resourced and funded to meet their statutory obligation for the provision of a quality public library service and to set in place appropriate plans for long-term governance and sustainability.
  7. Library service points should not be transitioned out of statutory provision unless all alternative options for their maintenance have been explored, a full cost/benefits analysis has been conducted in consultation with the community and a realistic plan for long-term support is put in place.
  8. Where a Local Authority fails to meet agreed standards on statutory public library service delivery (so-called ‘hollowing-out’ of services) DCMS and DCLG should use effective strategies for early intervention & improvement, including options for sanction and the removal of library services (and funding) into a national or regional Library Service.
  9. Public libraries must work in partnership with other local community organisations to sustain and amplify the reach and impact of their services.
  10. Public engagement with libraries should be promoted and encouraged through a joined-up programme of media and public relations led jointly by members of the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce (and in future by the organisation with responsibility for the national development function for public libraries).


Image credit: Act Now by Michael Tapp via Flickr, original resized and cropped (CC BY-NC 2.0)


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