Libraries? Don’t ask me! I’m the libraries minister!

Libraries minister says volunteer libraries are everyone’s responsibility – except his.Ed Vaizey

The Library Campaign pursued him from May 2013 with a long list of problems on which volunteer libraries urgently need help. (See The Library Campaigner, Issue 87, page 4) The only answer (indirectly) was a post on the official government website – to all and sundry – to ‘run a library’ just for fun.

TLC summer 2013 p4

You can download the letter from: November 2013 – Letter to TLC from Ed Vaizey

The text reads:

November 2013

Dear Ms Swaffield

Thank you for your further e-mail of 17 October and for details of the common problems being experienced by volunteer libraries. I apologise for the delay in replying to your original email on 17 May.

I am aware of the recent statement by CILIP that the official Government website GOV.UK is being used to promote volunteer-managed community libraries ahead of those delivered by local authorities, staffed by professionals. I do not accept that this is the case. I acknowledge that the GOV.UK website provides detail relating to community libraries, and I think it is right to do so, but equally the website contains comprehensive detail relating to the Government’s role in overseeing library services, including the need for local authorities to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. The website is not promoting community libraries ahead of the local authority statutory service, and as I have.said previously community libraries are not replacing the comprehensive and efficient library service that a local authority is under a statutory duty to provide.

The public library service in England is run by local authorities and it is for them to determine how best to provide a comprehensive and efficient public library service to their community, within available resources. More recently library service reviews have been undertaken by many local authorities resulting in a reshaping of library services with variable levels of community involvement. These changes have seen a growth in public libraries that are either community managed or community run and in some cases libraries being run by volunteers outside of the statutory service .

The Arts Council England and Local Government Association publication “Community libraries – Learning from experience: guiding principles for local authorities” published in January this year, identified factors which local authorities might find helpful when considering how best to design and manage their own library services. Although intended primarily for local authority officers and members, it is also of interest and relevance to others, including community representatives.

Additionally, Locality, a registered charity, that receives funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) provides a nationwide network for community-led organisations that aims to help people to set up locally owned and led organisations and support organisations to exchange ideas and best practice, including running a library. Locality’s Libraries Community Knowledge Hub provides an online platform and resource for the community library network, bringing together advice and guidance, peer networking; and access to a range of resources and remote support. This detail is available at: libraries.communityknowledgehub.org.uk and not only provides information on a number of issues relating to running a library, but also access to a forum to ask questions of an expert panel and network of members, or help others by answering their questions.

Further to this Cabinet Office and DCLG are developing a peer to peer networking website across a full range of community action topics, including community libraries. The peer to peer website will provide the opportunity for the community library network to share a range of good case studies illustrating the variety of models available for setting up a community run library, as well as sharing information related to running a community I volunteer library.

No matter what model is in place there is a need for support and guidance to deliver a library service and the local authorities and the community library network themselves are well placed to provide appropriate advice and guidance.

Ed Vaizey MP
Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries

More on this in the next issue of The Library Campaigner, our magazine for members, due to go to print shortly.

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