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Public Libraries

Public libraries

Libraries are places where democracy, freedom and equality are not only respected but celebrated. The unique added value of a library is that it makes these outcomes universally accessible and relevant on equal terms to all members of the community in a way that is highly cost effective for the Local Authority

Nick Poole, Chief Executive, CILIP.


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.

The most successful library services represent a long-term partnership between librarians, Council officers, elected representatives, library users and the wider community – united by the common commitment to securing access to knowledge, learning and opportunity for local residents.

Benefits of public libraries

Libraries and the staff that work in them change lives and transform communities and help to build a fair and prosperous society.


  • Connect people with the information they need to succeed
  • Provide public access to knowledge and information
  • Promote reading and literature to all ages and the whole of society
  • Enable lifelong learning
  • Contribute to the digital inclusion agenda
  • Serve local people as a community hub
  • Provide a trusted digital space for the whole community
  • Provide a much-needed ‘3rd space’ to support formal and informal learning`
  • Act as a cost-saver by combating loneliness and social isolation
  • Stand for important values such as intellectual property, equality, engaged citizenship and informed democracy
  • Work with children, those with literacy problems and other disadvantaged groups

Role of professional librarians

Leading and delivering future-facing public library services which meet the full range of needs of local residents requires professional expertise and skills.

While CILIP recognises and celebrates the fact that volunteers have always had an important role to play in extending and enhancing services, Councils should never short-cut the delivery of quality services by substituting paid professional roles with volunteer capacity.

Professional librarians:
  • Adapt their services to meet the full range of community needs
  • Are committed to maintaining their professional skills
  • Commit to a set of Ethical Principles and a professional Code of Practice
  • Promote freedom of access to information and freedom of expression
  • Support and enable equality, diversity, inclusivity and representation
  • Deliver quality services and ongoing improvements
  • Design services which meet the full range of information needs of the community
  • Respect and uphold the privacy and confidentiality of library users
  • Actively ensure that physical and digital collections are broad, balanced and free from bias
  • Promote digital skills and information literacy for library users
  • Maximise the efficiency of services, providing a better return on investment for Councils
  • Think creatively and laterally to solve problems
  • Are dedicated to providing excellent customer service
  • Understand and support Internet safety and cybersecurity
  • Promote good information governance, risk management and regulatory compliance

IFLA/UNESCO Public Library Manifesto

CILIP supports and endorses the principles of the ILFA/UNESCO Manifesto on Public Libraries, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2019, which include:

  • All public libraries must be free at point-of-use
  • Public library services are provided on the basis of equality of access for all;
  • Public libraries should not be subject to any form of censorship or commercial pressures
  • Public libraries should meet professional standards of operation
  • Public libraries should be staffed by professional librarians
  • Public libraries should undertake outreach and promotional activities to encourage use

Joint CILIP/LGA Guidance for Councils

CILIP and the Local Government Association (LGA) have collaborated to produce Delivering Local Solutions for Public Library Services: A Guide for Councillors (free to download from the LGA website). The diagram below summarises the key requirements of a modern public library service:

Leadership for Libraries Taskforce

CILIP is a member of the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce, the joint Taskforce commissioned by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Local Government Association to implement the recommendations of the 2014 Independent Report on Public libraries in England.

Changes to Library Authority services

The provision of a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service in England is a statutory responsibility on Local and Central Government under the 1964 Public Libraries Act.

The Act creates a responsibility of ‘superintendence’ on the part of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport – essentially ensuring that library services are developed and improved as a network that is led locally, supported regionally and promoted nationally.

CILIP actively encourages Local Authorities to engage with library professionals and with the Libraries Team at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport before bringing forward proposals for changes to library services. All proposed changes should be:

  • Defined around the evidenced needs of local people
  • Carried out in open and meaningful consultation with library users and stakeholders
  • Not prejudicial (ie. not predicated on a fixed previously-agreed budget)
  • Based on a clear understanding of the value of a modern public library service
  • Futureproof and sustainable, including maintaining the quality of service provision

Where relevant, Local Authorities should consider undertaking a Peer Review or similar consultative process with colleagues in other Authorities where library use is increasing.

Raising the profile of public libraries

CILIP's work on the My Library By Right campaign was an important step in promoting awareness and recognition of people’s statutory right to a quality library service. CILIP continues to provide support to library campaigners around the country as well as raising the profile of libraries through initiatives such as Libraries Week and the ongoing Famous Faces campaign.

Community for public librarians

An large part of CILIP's impact in the public library sector is made by the tireless efforts of the volunteers in the Public and Mobile Libraries Group. The group provides an invaluable community for public librarians to share best practice, network and campaign for public support.

If you’re interesting in working as a public librarian, check out our Careers page for more information and head to Information Professional Jobs for current vacancies.

Skills strategy for the sector

CILIP worked with the Society of Chief Librarians (now Libraries Connected) on the publication of the Public Library Skills Strategy in 2017, which is being used to guide professional development initiatives within the public library sector.

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