18 December 2014 . The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals has welcomed the Sieghart panel independent report on public libraries. Published today, 18 December, the report makes recommendations to reinvigorate public libraries in England.
Martyn Wade, Chair of the CILIP Board, said:
"The Sieghart report is short, accessible, practical and to the point. It provides a convincing roadmap towards a revitalised future for public libraries in England. It must be implemented.
The report has been published in an extremely tough financial climate, which continues to affect libraries. Compared to five years ago across the UK there are 337 fewer libraries and nearly 5,500 fewer staff. Library opening hours and visits to libraries have also declined. The financial outlook for libraries is equally, if not more, grim. The Sieghart report rightly recognises the power of libraries to transform lives and communities, and how this only increases in the digital age. We need a robust network of library services, developed and driven by professional staff, to fulfil the promise of the Sieghart report.
There is an overwhelming need and desire to get on with reinvigorating our libraries. Libraries need effective advocacy more than ever. We look forward to discussing with others how the report's recommendations can be put into place."
The recommendation that a Digital Library Network is created, which would include Wi-Fi and modern computer facilities in every library. We echo the call for Government funding to enable this and staff training to successfully deliver it. The introduction of the People's Network in 2000, with internet access in every library, helped public libraries grasp opportunities that came with ICT developments. An effective Digital Library Network would make sure that public libraries fully embrace the digital age. It is essential that libraries play a greater role bridging the digital divide by driving digital fluency and helping 20% of the population in England that have not yet gone online.
We welcome the workforce development proposals. We share the ambition that libraries should attract new high calibre recruits into the workforce and that we develop the leaders of the future. The idea of a TeachFirst initiative in libraries is imaginative but will require a great deal of development and suitable funding. As the professional body for the sector we know that skilled staff at every level are essential to deliver library services that meet the needs of communities and wider society. We welcome the importance placed on developing the skills and expertise of the public library workforce.
We welcome the recognition that national leadership is needed to advocate for the sector by providing an overarching vision and narrative, supporting and developing the public library brand, and providing coherent visibility. Strong national leadership will help secure the necessary economies of scale and productive partnerships. The effectiveness of the proposed National Taskforce will be critical. As joint convenors of the Taskforce it is vital that the Local Government Association is prepared to embrace these leadership themes and champion them strongly with local authorities.
We welcome the recommendation that public libraries are important to other government departments, as well as the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and should receive greater recognition and support.
We have the following comments:
The report does not go into detail about the financial context within which the recommendations have been made. Commentators on the 2014 Autumn Statement have pointed out that services, including libraries, that fall outside the protected ring will have seen per capita spending reduce by 60% between 2010 and 2020. News about library cuts and reductions dominates the media, most recently proposals about the new Library of Birmingham. This makes the proposals in the report more urgent not less. The broader political questions relating to the future of public services will be debated at the General Election and we will advocate strongly on the importance of public libraries.
Standards or user entitlements are not mentioned in the report. There is also no mention of regulation under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act. However the idea of developing a national public library brand must involve discussions about a common set of services delivered to an agreed level. The Universal Offers developed by the Society of Chief Librarians are a useful starting point. We believe that a more explicit set of national user entitlements should be developed by the Taskforce as part of its programme. We argued in our evidence to the Sieghart report that this should be underpinned by a national development and improvement programme for public libraries based on outcomes and impact on communities.
We welcome the report's discouragement of forming volunteer-only libraries and share concerns about sustainability. In our evidence to the Sieghart report we called for an honest debate about the role of volunteers in the library service and we hope the Taskforce will lead this. The public receives poorer library services when the expertise and skills of staff are lost through job cuts or job substitution by volunteers. There needs to be improved community engagement when developing and delivering library services, but this needs staff with the right skills and expertise for success.