In what appears to be a somewhat incongruous attempt to ride off the back of National Libraries Day, two Government departments (the DCMS and the DCLG) chose it to announce that they have together commissioned an independent report on England’s public library service.  The terms of the review are to look at what the future “core principles” of the public library should be; whether the current model is the “most comprehensive and efficient” and to look at the role of volunteer (“community”) libraries.  This is therefore about as wide ranging as it is possible to get, for these terms mean it will be looking at whether the public library service should change what it actually does, how it does it and who does it.

The chair of the committee will be William Sieghart, who may be a familiar name to you due to his recent review into e-lending. A frequent library user, when he did a very short interview with this website last year, he identified the main barrier to e-lending in libraries as “fear of change”. This phrase is what many more cynical observers think could be ascribed to Ed Vaizey, who called the last government libraries review “a classic ministerial excuse for not acting”. It is good though that it is not just a DCMS report: libraries are far more about Culture and so the involvement of the DCLG is to be tentatively welcomed, although the suspicion here is that it’s actually all about the budget cuts.

Sieghart: the whole (public library) world in his hands?

Sieghart: the whole (public library) world in his hands?

The members of the committee include a few familiar public library names – Sue Charteris (yes, of the Charteris Report and a recent contributor here), Janene Cox (president of the Society of Chief Libarians) and the author Joanne Trollope. Members of the Great and Good involved on the panel include the bosses respectively of the British Library, a publishing house and a literary agency.  There’s also, oddly, the boss of a private equity firm: presumably for some hard-nosed business insight and to see if costs can be squeezed out or more income made. So, not much on the education/unemployment/digital/social welfare side then.  There is also no real voice for your actual standard library user and, in what may be a snub or more likely may be simply that they’ve only just done their own report, Arts Council England are notable by their absence. They’re not alone as CILIP is also not included … which may be something to do with the continued sulk Ed may or may not have about their recent vote of no confidence in him or may be simply that CILIP is not seen as entirely convenient to include by ministries tempted to look the other way while paid and professionally qualified staff lose their jobs in unprecedented numbers.

The last thing that is needed is more talking, especially if it used by the ministries to excuse inaction or, as likely, to retroactively approve breakneck changes to libraries driven by budget cuts. The fact that it will only report at the end of the year suggests a certain lack of urgency. However, the Sieghart Report (Sieghart 2?) will give a choice to once more look at the issues and once more point out the necessary importance of the public library service.  Who knows but perhaps something new or useful may come out of it. Let’s hope the ministers actually listen and do something this time if it does.

Sieghart Report into public libraries announced

  • Oh no! Another time-wasting inquiry! – Library Campaign. “The Library Campaign urges all who care about libraries to contact the inquiry. And to tell the minister we are sick of his inaction.”
  • Public libraries: what do you think? – Gov.uk. “To submit evidence to the Panel, email Library-secretariat@culture.gsi.gov.ukbefore 5pm on Friday 21 March 2014. Alternatively written submissions can be sent to: Library Secretariat Department for Culture, Media and Sport 4th Floor 100 Parliament Street London SW1A 2BQ”
  • Sieghart to chair new library review – BookSeller. “… news of yet a further report into the library service did not impress campaigners. Laura Swaffield, chair of The Library Campaign, commented: “Oh no – another report on public libraries! There are piles of them already, all saying much the same thing. What is needed is urgent action. The stream of public libraries being cut to pieces, or dumped on to volunteers to run, is becoming a flood. When local councils set their budgets later this month, it will become a torrent.”
  • William Sieghart to chair panel to produce independent report on England’s public library service – Gov.uk. “An independent report on the public library service in England has been commissioned from philanthropist, entrepreneur and publisher William Sieghart by Culture Minister Ed Vaizey and Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis. The report has been jointly commissioned by the Culture Department and the Department for Communities and Local Government. Mr Sieghart will lead an expert panel (details below) to take evidence and report to ministers by the end of the year. Key questions for the panel to address include:

– What are the core principles of a public library into the future?
– Is the current model of delivery the most comprehensive and efficient?
– What is the role of community libraries? Key questions for the panel

“This is obviously a complete and utter waste of time. Quite obviously everyone in the world of libraries wants government to get on with it and show the line of travel.” Ed Vaizey on the last Government commissioned Library Report, 2009.