The national library review doesn’t have to be bad news…

26 March 2014

The budget pressures aren’t going away. Funding libraries the traditional way is getting harder and harder. But as library services across the country are changing, there are reasons to be hopeful too.

We’ve submitted an open letter to the panel that has been commissioned by the Culture Department and the Department for Communities and Local Government, chaired by William Sieghart, to consider public library services in England. Our observations are based on our experiences of working alongside a number of local authorities to support them in, as one authority put it, "protecting and enhancing" their library services.

Here are some of our thoughts:
• While budget pressures are inevitable, many services are finding innovative solutions that enable spending to be reduced with little or no deterioration of service. But a strategic and considered approach is necessary if these solutions are to be effective over the longer term - an approach which may require considerable upfront investment of time and potentially resources.
• The term "community libraries", once used to mean any library with a focus on local provision and reaching out to the communities to serves, has been hijacked in recent years to refer specifically to volunteer-run libraries, a term we would prefer as it is more explicit and honest
• Using volunteers has as a result of budget pressures been too often seen as a cheap way of providing services rather than a strategic tool to enable community engagement - the two aims are not, in our view, mutually exclusive but they require good leadership
• Closing an individual library is not necessarily a bad thing but such decisions should not be undertaken lightly and without due assessment of the likely impact; however a smaller network of better (and better-located) buildings can be a positive
• More needs to be done nationally to both drive and support improvements, and a return to some form of a standards framework would support this, as would a drive towards more national and regional collaboration

Like everyone working in the library sector, we await the panel's conclusions with great interest and trust that the resulting recommendations will provide a clear focus for transformation where it is needed, and ensuring the future of this much-valued public service.

Read the full letter here.