Sieghart has spoken! The long-awaited independent report on England’s public libraries is out, after sitting on ministers’ desks for over two months.
But – so far – the most important bit is missing. The bit where the government says: “OK, this is what we are going to do…”
Until we see that, library supporters remain in a state of impotent rage.
And isn’t it odd that the report comes out on the day that MPs pack up and go home for the hols….
The report itself is brief and to the point.
The killer quote is: “Two themes have emerged, consistently and dramatically.
The first was that there have already been far too many library reviews in recent years which have come to nothing.
The second was that not enough decision makers at national or local level appear sufficiently aware of the remarkable and vital value that a good library service can offer modern communities of every size and character.”
The Library Campaign agrees.
We also welcome the report’s insight that library services – despite heavy cuts and official ignorance – are still widely used and often offer innovative, impressive services.
But all this is rapidly going down the drain.
On this government’s watch (since 2011) over 900 libraries have already closed or been dumped on to reluctant volunteers to run as best they can – or are currently threatened with this fate. Countless others stay “open” but are cutting staff, stock and opening hours.
Sieghart has a good list of what needs doing. Some of it will cost a little money. But we are talking about peanuts.
Now we want action.
WHAT SIEGHART SAYS
The report is brief, and an easy read. There are seven clearly-marked recommendations. But if you are in a big hurry…
The future of libraries as community hubs is essential for the well-being of the nation.
In England, over a third of the population visits their local library. In the poorest areas, that figure rises to nearly a half. It is no wonder that communities feel so passionately about their libraries.
Many local authorities are delivering impressive and comprehensive library services. … The need now is to build on and extend those practices to benefit every library in the country.
Despite the growth in digital technologies, there is still a clear need and demand within communities for modern, safe, non-judgemental, flexible spaces, where citizens of all ages can mine the knowledge of the world for free, supported by the help and knowledge of the
library workforce. This is particularly true for the most vulnerable in society who need support and guidance and to children and young people who benefit from engagement with libraries outside of the formal classroom environment.
In such a fragile financial environment as we have now, economies of scale across the country could have a huge and beneficial effect. And a national strategy could articulate what libraries are, and why they are a force for good for us all.
Our conclusions are clear, concise and practical. We make three major recommendations:
1. A national digital resource for libraries, to be delivered in partnership with local authorities
2. A task and finish force, led by local government, in partnership with other bodies involved in the library sector, to provide a strategic framework for England, and to help in implementing the following
3. The task force, to work with local authorities, to help them improve, revitalise and if necessary, change their local library service, while encouraging, appropriate to each library, increased community involvement
THE LIBRARY CAMPAIGN SAYS
This is a tactful report, clearly aimed at being nice to the government so that it does something, instead of getting in a huff.
The references to the current financial meltdown are not absent, but are pretty pallid. There is no attempt to tot up the actual damage so far, in terms of mass closures and cuts, and loss of professional staff.
As for the hundreds of volunteers left holding the baby, Sieghart just says ” …there are questions over their long-term viability”. That’s putting it far too mildly.
There’s just one real mention of money – “to enable local authorities to extend WiFi access, computer facilities and workforce training for all public libraries in England”. That’s peanuts in government terms.
There isn’t a lot said about the importance of professional library staff. For digital support they “should be recognised for the significant role they play in modern society at present”. True – but that leaves out so much of what they do.
And there’s no suggestion that actual library USERS should be involved in the task force (which, by the way, does not get going until “spring 2015”, whenever that is).
So – it’s a sound report, but it’s Mr Softee all round.
All the more shameful, then, that the immediate government response is pretty well zero.