Mr Rob Wilson MP
Minister for Civil Society
Department for Culture, Media and Sport
100 Parliament Street
London SW1A 2BQ
14th February 2017
cc. Mr Darren Henley, Chair, Arts Council England
Mr Paul Blantern, Chair, Libraries Taskforce
Mr Neil MacInnes, President, Society of Chief Librarians
Mrs Linda Tomos, Chief Executive and Librarian, National Library Wales
Mr John Scally, Chief Executive and Librarian, National Library of Scotland
Dr Sandra Collins, Director, National Library of Ireland
Mr Roly Keating, Chief Executive, British Library
Mrs Karen McFarlane, Chair, CILIP
Mrs Kate Arnold, President, CILIP
Mr Craig Green, Chair, CILIP in Scotland
I am writing to you in my capacity as the outgoing Chair of CILIP, the UK’s library and information association and as former director of the National Library Scotland. I would like to introduce you to my successor, Karen McFarlane and to offer one or two observations on the future direction of the nation’s libraries.
As you will be aware, libraries and professional library staff play a fundamentally important role in the civic life of our nation. In a world in which internet search engines are increasingly being manipulated to promote false and inaccurate content and the boundary between opinion and fact is ever-narrowing, now more than ever we all need to be able to access impartial, evidence-based knowledge both digitally and in print.
Our profession has a vital role to play in delivering a society that works for everyone, supporting freedom of access to information and freedom of expression and ensuring informed citizens can fully participate, economically, socially and politically.
I note the central role of knowledge, data and advanced skills in your Government’s Green Paper, Building our Industrial Strategy and I am pleased that CILIP will be coordinating a response to this on behalf of our sector. Yet as I survey the current state of the nation’s library and information services, the reality belies these ambitions.
In schools, colleges and communities across the country, UK citizens today have less opportunity to access and use knowledge and information through libraries than any generation since the war. The potential contribution of information and library services to improve literacy, skills and employability, to support community development and to strengthen social cohesion has been missed by successive administrations.
I therefore welcome your public and proactive support for the public library services that fall within your mandate. I note the work of the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce, which – for all its efforts – has not succeeded in slowing the pattern of erratic cuts and service reductions across the country. I would encourage you to go further by calling on your colleagues across Government and in the Devolved Nations to set a new direction for the nation’s libraries, supported by clear commitment and investment within the lifetime of this Parliament.
I would urge you to seek examples of how other countries are managing the development of their information and library services for the benefit of all. There are excellent examples in Europe and elsewhere across the world. Closer to home, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all produced realistic and influential strategies which are making a real difference.
I am sure that you share our vision of an innovative, high-quality and effective information and library service for all. I would encourage you to engage actively with CILIP and the new Libraries All-Party Parliamentary Group to help ensure that information and library services achieve their potential for everyone, wherever they may live in England.
Outgoing Chair, CILIP