In an article published in the Bookseller it has been announced that the Director of Libraries role at Arts Council England is being deleted. This decision has been made as part of the Arts Council England restructure, undertaken partly in response to a cut in funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
The restructure has already seen an unwelcome reduction in the number of library support staff at Arts Council England. The Director of Libraries role is being replaced by a new position that is intended to combine responsibility for libraries with a regional manager post. At a time when library services are facing serious cuts it is inappropriate to remove this dedicated libraries post – this is a time to provide libraries with more support and expand the role of A.C.E. to focus on aspects of libraries beyond their arts remit, not reduce it.
As A.C.E. are also investing a considerable amount of funding in a number of library based projects it is also strange that they are reducing the number of staff able to support these projects. In July last year Alan Davey (Chief Executive of Arts Council England) took part in a live web chat, during which he was asked what experience and expertise A.C.E. had of overseeing libraries? In his reply he stated:
“We’ve taken on a significant number of former MLA staff and recruited new people with the right knowledge to enable us to look after these new sectors.”
This was a welcome statement, but has now been overshadowed by subsequent announcements that numbers of A.C.E. support staff responsible for libraries are being reduced and the post with a dedicated focus on library development is to be removed.
It is a time for Arts Council England to show that they are committed to developing libraries, not only in the funding they are providing for library based projects, but also by ensuring that these projects and library development (encompassing all aspects of libraries functions, not just art) are well supported by sufficient numbers of experienced staff. The latest announcement does not provide much reassurance in this regard.