Press release

Culture Minister launches support programme for libraries

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A new support programme that will secure a place for public libraries at the heart of the Big Society was unveiled by Ed Vaizey today.

Speaking at the Remodelling Libraries Conference, Mr Vaizey launched a new, expert support programme led by the Museums Libraries and Archive Council (MLA) and the LGA Group (Local Government Association Group). They will work together to support councils as they adapt to the current economic challenge, helping them to deliver the key services valued by communities while driving down costs.

The programme will initially undertake intensive, proactive work with around 10 library authorities. The best learning from those projects will then be shared throughout the wider public library network so that everyone can benefit from the work.

The Minister reinforced the Government’s commitment to a high quality library service with a radical rethink in how it is delivered. He urged consideration of options including shared services, merging functions, staffing across authorities, support from volunteers or the use of other community buildings. New governance models and greater cooperation across library authority boundaries are already emerging, such as the London Library Change Programme, which estimates potential savings of £20 million simply through sharing best practice. Mr. Vaizey emphasised that the programme will not be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and is based on the principle that local services know their communities best and that the solutions should be owned and driven by councils.

The statutory Advisory Council for Libraries will be wound down via the Public Bodies Bill.

Mr Vaizey also announced - in collaboration with the Society of Chief Librarians - a public library promise to Race Online 2012, the campaign led by UK Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox, that the library network will  help half a million people gain digital skills by the end of 2012.

Mr Vaizey said:

“Public libraries have a unique place in society where anyone can go without judgement to learn, read, access information, get online or find entertainment.  And the library service’s ability to reach out and engage with groups who might otherwise be on the outskirts of the community makes their role in the Big Society all the more vital.

“Today’s economic challenge means people need library services more than ever, to help them back to work, to access learning and as a central plank of community cohesion. So I am delighted that public libraries have promised to help half a million digitally excluded people become confident digital citizens as part of Race Online 2012.

“But to do all of this in a time of reduced public spending means fresh thinking on how services are delivered. That’s why greater leadership is so important, and why I am announcing a support programme for libraries- led by local government - to work with councils and spread learning throughout the library network. We need to ask tough questions, like whether there is scope for savings in reducing the number of library authorities through voluntary alliances. It’s precisely because I believe so strongly in the value of public library services that I want to secure a sustainable future in the challenging times ahead.”

UK Digital Champion, Martha Lane Fox said:

“Libraries are fantastic sources of information, advice and support for the communities they serve. They provide internet access for anyone, in an environment that feels safe and secure. I am delighted that the Society of Chief Librarians has pledged that the library network will help half a million people gain digital skills by the end of 2012. That’s a major step on the road to getting all 10 million people in the UK who’ve never used the internet online, and I hope it will inspire more people to pledge to help people get online through Thank you!”

Nicky Parker, president of the Society of Chief Librarians said:

“Library services are rising to the double challenge of improving services for customers and contributing to the difficult discussions as to how councils make major savings and changes.

“A collaboration between local and national government aiming to ensure the public has a library service fit for the changing times is very timely. We look forward to working together to ensure that the universal right to access to books, information and support comes out strongly, but delivered in locally determined, modern and innovative ways.”

Leader of Cumbria County Council, Councillor Eddie Martin said:

“Here in Cumbria we have an excellent library service, one that has developed a reputation for innovation and delivering a high-quality customer service - often in sparse, rural locations. However, if the service is to maintain this reputation in future, it will need to meet the challenges now facing local government head on.

“We want a library service that properly meets the needs of 21st century society, and shows innovation in delivering more with less. This will involve changes and challenges. Cumbria is ready to play its part in the Government’s library initiative and help shape the libraries of the future.”

Notes to editors

  1. A full text of the speech is available for comment at Write-to-reply / Re-modelling public libraries. [now closed]
  2. Further information on the MLA/LGA proposal is available on the MLA website.
  3. The support programme will work initially with around 10 library authorities. So far the following have expressed interest in taking part: Cumbria, Bristol, Kensington & Chelsea, Blackburn, Cornwall and Newcastle.
  4. To learn more about Race Online 2012 visit Race Online 2010 website.
  5. Further quotes:

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