Libraries, equality and the “turnaround decade”

Nick Poole quote

David Cameron’s vision of a “Greater Britain” is intertwined with creating a very British knowledge economy. Public libraries provide equal access to information and knowledge that underpins the drive for equality that the Prime Minister calls for. In communities, Universities, schools, prisons, healthcare and banking it is our professional skills that will unlock the transformative potential of this economy.

In this post, CILIP CEO Nick Poole reflects on the key themes of Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech to the 2015 Conservative Party Conference and the opportunities they present to advocate for library and information professionals.

An opportunity for advocacy

In his landmark speech at today’s Conservative Party Conference, David Cameron set out his agenda for what he described as a ‘defining decade’ for Britain.

In many ways, he presented a more inclusive and liberal narrative than might have been expected from a Conservative  Government that came to power with a strong majority. The Prime Minister touched on themes of equality, social justice and the urgent need to address “deep social problems” in order to secure Britain’s future prosperity.

For those of us engaged in advocating for the interests of library and information professionals, the speech is an opportunity to look at what we are already doing that can help the Government deliver on these key agendas, while flagging areas in which urgent support is needed through policy, intervention and investment.

Tackling social injustice

The Prime Minister put social justice front and centre in Conservative policy, making a commitment to an “all out assault on poverty” and to promoting policy which would “finish the fight for real equality”.

Library and information services are built around the idea that everyone should have equal access to knowledge and information. Many of the projects nominated for the annual Libraries Change Lives award demonstrate the real impact of libraries on issues around poverty and inequality every single day.

The social ‘return on investment’ in publicly-accessible libraries is unrivalled in the public realm.

CILIP is calling on the Government to make good on this commitment via policies which will promote the sustainability and accessibility of library services in communities across the country. Tacking social injustice requires long-term planning and a willingness to invest in the services which make a genuine and lasting difference ‘on the ground’.

Boosting local economies

The Prime Minister announced “a national crusade to get homes built”, highlighting the desire to move from “generation rent” to a generation that can afford to buy their first home. The success of large-scale initiatives to invest in ‘place-making’ and the development of new communities across the UK depends on creating places that people want to live and learn in. This also means investing in local services which boost the local economy.

Libraries and information services are central to this vision as community hubs, trusted public spaces, places for learning - and a key resource helping Councils save money on education, social care and health,  including the potential for 27.5 million savings pa to the NHS through the provision of health information1, according to Arts Council research.

The impact of the British Library’s network of Business and IP Centres highlights what libraries can do for local businesses and local jobs. From helping start-ups learn about company law to keeping established businesses up-to-date with market trends, the library is increasingly a hub for local enterprise.

Information literacy and aspiration

David Cameron also spoke of his desire to create a “greater Britain made of greater expectations”: aspiration and social mobility were recurrent themes throughout his speech.

Information literacy is set to be the definitive skill-set of the next generation, much as word processing and email became core competencies for previous generations. In developing the kind of aspirational society which David Cameron envisages, it will be vital to avoid an emerging divide between ‘information rich’ and ‘information poor’.

In schools, colleges, Universities, public libraries and the countless other institutions in the public, private and 3rd sector, CILIP’s members are committed to promoting information literacy skills for all. Working alongside the Information Economy Strategy and National Data Strategy, CILIP is committed to promoting public policy which ensures that every child has the opportunity to build their information skills. 

The 'turnaround' decade

The Prime Minister referred to the 2010’s as the ‘turnaround decade’, leading to a “Great British Take-off” which will provide opportunity for all, no matter what their socio-economic or educational status. This is an ambitious agenda, but history shows that recovery and transformation require investment.

The Government’s aim to transform society and the economy is a real argument for a matching transformation in public policy that recognises the fundamental contribution of professional public library services and information expertise to these agendas.

David Cameron’s vision of a “Greater Britain” is synonymous with a very British knowledge economy. From banking to nursing, schools to prisons, it is our professional skills that will unlock the transformative potential of this economy.  CILIP’s professional members have the skills, ideas and local connections that make a real difference every day – to communities, to local businesses and to people’s lives.

If you would like to help us plan for how CILIP will advocate for the interests of our members at the heart of this economy, get involved in ourShape the Future consultation and help shape our future plans.

Additional CILIP statement: 8 October

There has been significant discussion and debate about this post on social media, notably on Twitter. A number of members and followers have asked specific questions about the post, and CILIP’s position more generally, and we felt it best to respond and provide clarification. 

CILIP’s vision is that a fair and economically prosperous society is underpinned by literacy, access to information and the transfer of knowledge. It is from this perspective that we provide commentary on and responses to current political agendas, in order to secure and promote the public benefit that our members deliver. 

CILIP is non-partisan and politically-neutral and welcomes opportunities to work with all parties to promote the interests of our professional community. The post and our tweets do not support or endorse Conservative policy, but rather seek to demonstrate how, if it is to be delivered, we need to secure a commitment to invest in libraries, information management and the knowledge economy. 

We had already committed to providing a matching commentary on opportunities for advocacy from Labour policy, and we continue to seek meetings with key parliamentarians across parties in order to represent the
interests of our community. 

We are well aware that many of our members are experiencing significant pressure as a result of the current cuts and changes to public funding. We have a duty to represent the broad range of interests of our membership, which include the promotion of information literacy, information management and the contribution of libraries to the knowledge economy as well as to social justice.

In the short-term, we are preparing for a structured and coherent response to the announcement of the outcomes of the 2015 Spending Review. In the medium-term, as part of the Shape the Future consultation to develop our Strategic Plan 2016-2020 we are looking at how best to secure the inclusion of libraries, information management and the knowledge economy in party manifesto commitments in 2020.

Shape the Future is an open, collaborative project and we welcome views and contributions from the whole community, including stakeholders and users of library services.


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