Society of Chief Librarians Re-Imagining Libraries Seminar

Today The Society of Chief Librarians held the first day of a two day seminar entitled “Re-imagining the public library offer”. Without any information on the UK SCL site about the event, we imagine it is focused on the recent introduction of the key offers supported by SCL.

The keynote address was given by Ed Vaizey, and thanks to the tweeting of a number of attendees we were able to follow the key points from it. He:
  • Commented on the idea that good news stories, such as new libraries and initiatives don’t make it into the headlines. Yes, it’s true that stories about closures and cuts feature in the news (as they should, because people are rightly annoyed by them), but on the other hand there were also plenty of headlines featuring the flagship libraries such as those in Birmingham and Liverpool and other celebratory headlines.
  • Indicated that there should be annual accountability for libraries in England.
  • Said the Public Libraries Act wouldn’t be replaced, but statutory duty must remain.
  • Mentioned that extending PLR to ebooks loaned off-premises was being considered.
  • Expressed how difficult it was to engage other ministers in the work of libraries.
  • Saw the benefits of leaving public libraries under the umbrella of Arts Council England as a way reinforce the cultural focus of libraries and leverage funds.
  • Dreams of a development agency for libraries.
Questions that were raised throughout the sessions today included:
  • Do CIPFA library statistics measure all that is needed to be measured in public libraries? We would say not – not only because people are now accessing library services in new ways that aren’t accounted for in the statistics, but also because the qualitative value of library use isn’t currently measured.
  • Should we reintroduce library standards, and what role should they play? We would highlight that as other countries in the UK have library standards why shouldn’t English libraries? Without them public library authorities are testing how far they can abuse the “comprehensive and efficient” “for all” aspects of the 1964 Act.
Many of these issues could be addressed with the reintroduction of the Advisory Council on Libraries (or a similar pro-active body) and public library standards. ACL could act as a single development agency for libraries in England with a holistic approach to libraries, rather than the current situation where a number of agencies, with their own limited focus take responsibility for developing different strands of public libraries with limited effectiveness. The reintroduction of appropriate library standards would help ensure that citizens are provided with a library service that does not aim for the lowest common denominator under the banner of “comprehensive and efficient”.
Other sessions highlighted the value of libraries across society, and even though they were all worthwhile and many did sit well with a library perspsective, some of them were attempting to shoehorn libraries into roles that would need more development, consideration and research before being recommended. It makes us wonder if the core aims of libraries are being lost by those in power in an attempt to redefine the purpose of a library at all cost?
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