The Libraries Taskforce recently published its draft vision Libraries Deliver: an Ambition for Libraries in England 2016-2021 for consultation. It reflects on the evolving role of libraries in light of changing public expectations. It also presents a vision for the future and discusses how it should be achieved. We thought we’d summarise our response here to help stimulate debate – but, please, do complete the online questionnaire by close of play Friday 3 June to have your say!
The Libraries Taskforce flowed from the recommendations outlined in William Sieghart’s Independent Library Report (December, 2014) and we’re delighted its draft vision, Libraries Deliver, reflects many of the points we made in our original submission to Sieghart as well as in the course of our work for Locality and in promoting Common Libraries.
Have we adequately described the context in which library services in England are operating now and will be operating in for the next five years?
In addition to the helpful context provided and, in particular, the emphasis upon libraries supporting user journeys (rather than talk of users / non-users), we suggested the Libraries Taskforce might usefully:
- Be more forward looking / ambitious than currently stated, and thereby signal moves to transition the role of libraries in respect of trends that are currently missing but helpfully outlined by, for example, the ALA in relation to its Libraries Transform campaign in the United States
- Emphasise the need to be ambitious against a backdrop of continued austerity, as it does, but acknowledge the scope for library enterprises to play their part in delivering as much (in keeping with Locality’s work with public libraries in respect of income generation, as well as moves to establish library mutuals on a social enterprise footing over recent years).
- Acknowledge the growing number of community-managed and community-supported libraries, given the figure is liable to account for at least 10% of public libraries in the next five years (in keeping with mention of the same in the Sieghart Review as well as in its own recent guidance).
- Acknowledge the ways in which new/emergent technologies are set to disrupt the existing adult workforce in the next five years – principally, in respect of job automation – and the impact of austerity upon adult/Further Education. A growing number of incredibly positive initiatives for young people in public libraries support STEM skills development (not least, courtesy of SCL’s Code:Green initiative). However, there is currently a lack of provision for working adults in respect of the same, and public libraries should respond to the situation.
- Allude to the rise and rise of social media as a medium for ‘contributing information’, as well as the Sharing Economy and the scope for libraries to anchor community-oriented responses to the same so as to broaden their appeal / reflect changes in the way people expect to interact with services. See, for example, the growth in ‘Libraries of Things‘ and tool libraries, the conclusions reached by Shared Intelligence which underline the need for public libraries to do more to understand/facilitate self-publishing, and growing calls for routes to contribute notes/reviews to library books and catalogues.
Is our vision for the role of public libraries in England over the next five years clear?
Clear – yes. Specific to public libraries (as compared, for example, to any other public service – e.g. the NHS) – not particularly. We would like to see libraries of the near future anchor our fast-evolving knowledge commons online as well as an ethical / community-oriented sharing economy (see, for example, information about Global Sharing Week for the range of activities they could help to stimulate).
The Taskforce describes the purpose of the public library network as contributing to the delivery of 7 areas:
- Reading and literacy
- Digital literacy
- Health and wellbeing
- Economic growth
- Culture and creativity
Do we need to change/add to these 7 areas?
We would add: Sharing
Are the ambition statements for each area ambitious but realistic?
If no, what would you change?
Digital Literacy – we do not appear to aspire to offer more than public libraries in Kenya where DL for adult library users is concerned. We think that that is concerning if libraries are to seriously promote their role in economic development in discussion with LEPs and Combined Authorities, as well as problematic against a backdrop of cuts to adult education and FE (and significant tuition fees for HE courses). The inclusion of an indicator to track the introduction of makerspaces to public libraries in England is, therefore, welcome – although, we are unclear as to how the Taskforce proposes to action/support the same based upon the current text.
Are the proposed indicators the best ones to track progress?
If no, what would you change?
An indicator appears to be missing in respect of ‘creating sustainable economic growth’. Something concerning the environment/climate change (e.g. local groups/orgs supported to promote pertinent messages/information) could usefully acknowledge changing information needs in respect of the same amongst library users / communities.
The Taskforce could mention grants and social investment – available to community-managed libraries and some library mutuals. It could also usefully add something about the scope for bona fide library mutuals (i.e. those established as Community Benefit societies) to raise share capital from library users and local stakeholders. See, the Community Shares Unit for further information.
Crucially, we think it would be helpful to underline the benefits of establishing dedicated Trusts (as per Manchester) for the purposes of generating income to support public libraries. In the report we helped Locality write on the subject for Arts Council England, we made clear: public accounting rules prevent library services retaining income they generate (annual budgets are a matter for elected members and income generated from services is ordinarily pooled by local authorities). Independent trusts / library enterprise vehicles can ring-fence the income they generate solely for the benefit of their local library service.
We have identified 4 areas for development:
- delivering 24/7 online access to public library services through a Single Library Digital Presence (SLDP)
- improving access to library buildings and services
- improving access to information and resources within library buildings by getting the most from universally available WiFi
- encouraging users to become more involved in providing feedback and contributing to the development of services
Are these the right priorities?
Yes. However, we would like to have seen more in the way of detailed commitments re ‘how’ the Taskforce and others will deliver the priorities outlined. As the text stands, it only references headline approaches to taking forward 2/4 priorities. The third could be approached with some form of commitment to extend hardware loans – both within and beyond library buildings. The fourth could be considerably more ambitious than the ‘business as usual’ approach to surveys, etc – and it could also read across, explicitly, to earlier mention of e.g. crowdfunding. We would also like to understand how the Taskforce will ‘encourage users to become more involved in providing feedback and contributing to the development of services’, in particular, where ‘delivering 24/7 online access to public library services through a Single Library Digital Presence (SLDP)’ is concerned (given that this is set to be a critically important work stream going forward).
- Proactively support innovation and diversification in libraries to broaden their appeal / bolster their sustainability into the future (not least, given that user numbers and issues continue to decline year-on-year on the basis of what has remained a broadly consistent offer).
- Proactively support enterprise / income generation in public libraries to enhance their sustainability in the face of continued austerity and forward revenue projections for local authorities.
- Explore the opportunities for public libraries flowing from the growth of the Sharing Economy and, in particular, Open or Platform Cooperativism.
Overall, we warmly welcome Libraries Deliver and, as ever, look forward to supporting public libraries in England to deliver the actions that flow from the Taskforce’s consultation exercise.