SCL announces ‘universal offers’ for libraries

A press conference was held this morning at the British Library, where Janene Cox, President of the Society of Chief Librarians (SLC) set out their vision for the future of libraries.  Janene Cox was joined by Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, Miranda McKearney OBE, Director of The Reading Agency, and Nicky Morgan, Director of Libraries at Arts Council England.

The four ‘Universal Offers’ – Health, Reading, Information, and Digital – are the four service areas which modern users regard as integral to public libraries. They were developed by the Society of Chief Librarians and partners including Arts Council England and The Reading Agency.

The SCL believe that the new national approach will, for the first time, clarify what the public should be able to expect from their library.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey MP said:

“Libraries continue to be an essential part of our local communities. They entertain and educate, they act as meeting places and important sources of local information.

The four Universal Offers clearly shows the range of services libraries now offer and this national approach will help ensure all libraries keep pace with these changing demands.

The public library service is in good health. There were 256 million visits to England’s 3,243 libraries in 2011-12 with three quarters of children and 40 per cent of adults using our libraries. These are phenomenal statistics that show the strength and relevance of public libraries.”

You can read The Bookseller article here: http://www.thebookseller.com/news/scl-announces-universal-offers-libraries.html,

the SCL press release here: http://www.goscl.com/libraries-of-the-21st-century-scl-launches-four-national-offers-for-public-libraries/

and the Universal Offers Media pack here: http://www.goscl.com/libraries-of-the-21st-century-scl-launches-four-national-offers-for-public-libraries/launch-of-the-universal-offers-media-pack/

How feasible and realistic is it?

What are the advantages and pitfalls?

We’d love to know your thoughts.

 

6 comments for “SCL announces ‘universal offers’ for libraries

  1. Laura Swaffield
    January 31, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    I have just come from the press conference to launch this plan. I don’t quite know whether to laugh or cry. One laugh was the minister (getting a little plumper than he was) congratulating the Arts Council on its ‘well-received’ new report on ‘community libraries’. As always, one wonders what he’s on.

    Cry?
    Well, the plan is actually a magnificent piece of work. It’s the kind of thing I’ve been wanting for years and years. All those bits of pilot work, the toolkits, the evidence data, the advocacy materials – all embedded at last into one coherent framework, available to the whole service. So everyone can benefit, & a lot of reinventing the wheel can – at last, at last – stop.

    The whole idea of a relevant ‘universal’ offer that everyone can understand, and expect to get at their local library. Not at all new, but attempts to get it together before have been aborted.

    But have public libraries a cat in hell’s chance of delivering all this, as cuts hack right into the bone, expert staff are sacked in droves and hundreds of ‘libraries’ are launched into the community to sink or swim as each best can – so they can’t offer a universal anything at all?

    Good luck to them.

  2. Elizabeth Ash
    January 31, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Quite how volunteer run libraries will sit within these “universal offers” remains to be seen. Books on Prescription is of particular concern.

    The rapid hollowing out of Croydon libraries has seen the service falter and errors made by experienced staff. Contact details of minors have been shared with other residents without consent on repeated occasions, despite requests that this cease. This is clearly in breach of Data Protection. I therefore dread to think what will occur in services such as Croydon’s where staff are hard pushed to cope. Errors are surely inevitable and this is extremely serious when handling sensitive and personal health information of library users.

    Mr Vaizey really needs to take those blinkers off and cease making claims that “the public library service is in good health.” In some local authorities that is clearly the case but sadly it is not the case in many local authorities and, with further cuts, the hollowing out of services is only set to get worse.

  3. Geoffrey Dron
    January 31, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    Fiddling while Rome burns.

    Branch libraries – not sexy to ACE – are closing and will continue to close and the service will not only not be comprehensive and efficient but will not be accessible to all who wish to use it, in breach of that all too frequently ignored limb of the duty imposed on local authorities under s.7 of the 1964 Act.

    Perhaps the DCMS, SCL and ACE can get it through their heads that access to local libraries is a basic human right protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (see e.g. ‘The Human Right to a Public Library’ K Mathieson Univ of Arizona 2012) and the European Convention on Human Rights (e.g.Art.2 of Prot.1 [education - including orthodox and digital literacy]). Do they want to see the UK in breach of international obligations as they allow England to be in breach of domestic law?

  4. Desmond Clarke
    January 31, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    There are some good ideas in this report. However, it does nothing to help confront the crisis facing puiblic libraries. CIPFA confirmed that 200 libraries closed last year and PLN reports that more than 300 will close or transfer to volunteer management this year. Most worrying. some local government officers are saying that worse is to come.
    The question being asked is when will the reality of what is happening in many authorities be recognised by the DCMS, SCL and ACE, and how do they intend to ensure a comprehensive service exists? That is the “universal” offer that should be available to all. It is also the duty prescribed in the 1964 Act.

  5. Shirley Burnham
    January 31, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    I put this comment on The Bookseller. Hope you don’t mind if I reiterate it here (and add a PS)?

    Aristotle’s *law of noncontradiction* states that “One cannot say of something that it is and that it is not – in the same respect and at the same time”.

    Here is a Contradiction that this conference exemplifies :

    Accessible public libraries providing a high standard of service are rapidly becoming far less than the universal offer aspired to when the institution was conceived and developed.

    But at this conference SCL is announcing ‘universal offers for libraries’. That implies that there will be a comprehensive service in place, that is fit for purpose, into which to deposit whatever ideas they have.

    That is why the user public may be hostile to statements made about Libraries by the SCL, Ministers of the DCMS and the Arts Council. However laudable the aspirations of conference might be, those who are discussing them appear to be ignoring all the harsh reality on the ground.

    A further source of public frustration with conference is the *repackaging* of ideas that have been expressed before. Here is one example :

    In July 2010 Culture minister Ed Vaizey, with the Society of Chief Librarians, made a ‘public library promise’ to help Race Online 2012 – the Government’s campaign, led by Martha Lane Fox, to ensure that many more people are online by the end of the Olympic year.

    So … much of what is being *announced* today is merely a reiteration of old news.

    The public’s hostility to their exclusion from all decision-making and blue-sky thinking is not politically motivated. It results from the vast gulf between those who have responsibility for the service and all those who use it. Exactly the same concerns existed under the former Labour government – and there has been NO narrowing of the gulf since then, rather it has got wider. SCL and the Minister would do well to heed Aristotle, acknowledge realities and respond to the cry of the people.

    P.S. I think it is hypocritical of those at conference to talk about “universal offers” when they are the instruments of the terrible crisis that besets public libraries and those who work in them today.

  6. Laura Swaffield
    January 31, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    It’s clear to me that the writers of the 4 Universal Wotsits must do A LOT to explain it all – let alone have a crack at making it work.

    They shouldn’t have given it such a grandiose science fiction title.
    They shouldn’t, ideally, have launched it just as the government takes a blow-torch to the entire public sector, libraries included.

    The timing alone makes the whole thing a joke.

    But I would like to defend the document.
    Read it.
    It has lots of details.
    Many of them will evince a hollow laugh, for years to come.

    But what it is is a badly-needed framework, pulling together all the info on what public libraries can do, and a lot of really useful material that has been developed over the years – unused. So some of it is indeed old stuff, & there’s nothing wrong with that.

    It even stands as a sort-of national standard for library services. England’s government won’t ever, ever give us one. And it won’t ever, ever help anyone who tries to use the 1964 Act to enforce any minimum quality of provision. So the Wotsits have some potential use it as a weapon…

    Plus some tools to try to promote aspects of the service, especially to those who still might have a few bob (eg the now-chaotic NHS, the new ring-fenced budget for public health in local councils).

    In the fight for survival, it is actually useful to have these tools.

    They would have been infinitely more useful a few years ago, before the whole service was dragged before the gates of hell.

    But you can’t fault the document itself.

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