I normally don’t give so much space to one person writing a guest blog but I have done so today for two reasons.  One, it’s the chief executive of CILIP and I’ve never had that honour before (Ed Vaizey, you know I’m here for you if you want to write something, ah go on).  Secondly, and far more importantly, the statutory nature of libraries is one of the most important weapons in the library armoury but it has been systematically ignored by government and councils for years. Everyone knows, including crucially the councils that this Government that will never intervene (regardless of what its new guidance, published just yesterday, may suggest). In addition, barely a week goes by without some news article saying that branches are at risk because the money needs to be kept instead for “statutory services”, not realising that that is precisely what a library is.

A campaign on the subject will remind everyone that libraries should not be so easy to cut and may even, if one is optimistic, encourage the government to actually start obeying its own laws. If we do not, not just as a profession but as a whole sector, stand up for it now then the cuts which are wiping the service we love out will continue.  What, frankly, do we have to lose? This campaign should have been done years ago, it is true (and it’s timing just before Christmas is going to raise an eyebrow or two) but let’s not carp about that.  We cannot change what happened then or now. What we can help influence is the future.  So get behind this and stand up for the public library service. After all, folks, it’s the law.

Why CILIP is launching ‘My Library By Right’ by Nick Poole, Chief Executive, CILIP

The message of the campaign is simple – people have a statutory right to a quality public library service, enshrined in the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act, and we think that right needs defending in the face of neglect by the Government and the tremendous economic pressures on Local Authorities.

Public libraries and the people that work in them deliver huge value – to their community, to individual users and to local economies. They are a vital part of the fabric of local services, whether extending the reach of health and social care, underpinning education and literacy, supporting local businesses or empowering people to develop their digital skills. They are safe, trusted, freely-accessible civic spaces in which people can explore important ideas like democracy, citizenship and self-empowerment.

Part of My Library By Right is about continuing to advocate for public libraries on the basis of what they deliver. But there is a real risk that this advocacy is falling on deaf ears in the wider context of the political agenda of devolution and public spending cuts. It is not enough to be positive, we must also be strong in the defence of public libraries – as CILIP Chair Martyn Wade writes:

“For too long, the statutory nature of England’s public library network has been neglected. We need to remind the public of their rights, and work with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Local Authorities to ensure that these rights are respected. “Our investigations and the legal advice we have received have highlighted a disturbing lack of legally-compliant guidance, in the absence of which many Local Authorities have taken discretionary decisions about their services which risk flouting the law. “Not only this, but the Secretary of State’s duty to issue statutory guidance must be exercised in compliance with his duty under section 149 of the Equality Act – to have due regard of the need to  eliminate discrimination and to advance equality of opportunity among protected groups. Over one hundred public libraries closed last year, 443 since 2010.”

We have to promote the wonderful things that public libraries do every day, but at the same time we have to be clear in our expectations of Government in their duty of stewardship and improvement on behalf of the taxpayer.

Overall objective

The aim of My Library By Right is to reverse the programme of neglect and ad-hoc decision-making about our public library network and to encourage Government and the Local Government Association to work with us to set out a realistic and positive strategy to secure the future of these vital services. We believe that the legal requirement for a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ service should be a minimum – what we really need is an open and forward-looking dialogue about how all of us – National and Local Government, library users and the professional bodies – can work together to deliver the strong and vibrant national public library service which the nation needs and deserves.

Specific activities

My Library By Right will deliver this aim by focusing on 5 connected programmes of work:

  • A public-facing campaign in the press and media to make people aware that they have statutory right to a quality library service;
  • Engagement with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport John Whittingdale and other key political stakeholders including the Shadow Culture Minister and cross-party Peers about options for delivering on the requirement to ‘maintain and improve’ the nation’s public libraries;
  • Engagement with the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce to lobby for clear and practical guidance on the characteristics of a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ service;
  • Engagement with public library supporters to share the legal arguments for the maintenance of a comprehensive and efficient service by Local Authorities;
  • n improved body of support and resources for CILIP members in public libraries who find themselves at risk or are considering alternate options for their career development.

An act of solidarity

CILIP represents library and information professionals working in a huge range of contexts across the public and private sector. The message of the recent Shape the Future consultation to develop our strategy to 2020 could not have been more clear – while we need to represent the breadth and diversity of this professional community, we all stand in solidarity with our colleagues in publicly-funded libraries. Public libraries are universal – everyone has access to them and the majority of people will interact with them at some point in their lives. In many ways, they serve as a barometer of the health and vitality of libraries in the public consciousness. My Library By Right is the first in a programme of high-impact campaigns to promote the interests of the library and information profession over the next four years.

Why now?

The Chancellor’s Autumn Budget was an opportunity to invest in the future of public libraries. Unfortunately, this opportunity was not taken, leaving the public library network dangerously exposed to real-terms cuts to Local Authority budgets. We know that colleagues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also considering the impact of the cuts imposed on their funding settlements.

CILIP was active before the Budget in pointing out the false economy of library cuts. For example, investing £450m in Government Digital Services while at the same time withdrawing support for the library services that many disadvantaged people use to get online makes little economic sense. The Budget will accelerate the pace at which Local Authorities look to achieve savings through the rationalisation of public library services. That’s why it is vital that we mount a strong and effective defence of public libraries now to prevent further ad-hoc decisions that result in the further loss or hollowing-out of those services. We also note that the current DCMS Business Plan 2012-2015 comes to an end in December. The only element of this plan relating to public libraries was the Future Libraries programme which came to an end in 2012. We need to act now to ensure that the responsibility for our public libraries is appropriately recognised and embedded in their plans from 2016.

What can people do to help?

 We are calling on the library and information profession to stand with us in support of My Library By Right. There are a number of things you can do to show your support:

Campaign overview of "My Library By Right". Will you be in?

Campaign overview of “My Library By Right”. Will you be in?

National news

  • The art of the possible: libraries as creative hubs – Gov.uk / DCMS Case Study. “St Helens library service provides access to educational, recreational, cultural and information activities to improve the quality of life for residents.” … “In terms of key performance indicators (KPIs), their statistics bucked the trends with visitor figures and new members showing an upturn. The work has benefited the library service in St Helens in a number of ways. It has: enabled the service to reach out to some of the most vulnerable adults in the borough, those suffering from drug and alcohol addictions and mental health problems; reached families, young people and the wider community through a vibrant arts programme; expanded the horizons of library staff, showing them the range of events that could be offered through libraries and teaching them the skills to manage the processes themselves; given staff greater confidence to try different things in their own libraries, leading to an enriched programme of events and activities; challenged people’s perception of what a library is for; raised the profile of the library service in St Helens, leading to a greater awareness of the role that the library service plays; raised the profile of St Helens as a major proponent of the arts”
  • Enterprising libraries – Gov.uk / DCMS Case Study. “The British Library’s Business & IP Centre national network contributes to local economic growth.” … “The Business & IP Centre national network is transforming city libraries into engines of innovation, economic growth and social mobility. The Business & IP Centres are physical hubs where people can come together to learn, network and access free and low-cost advice and support in protecting and commercialising a business idea. Current centres are in central libraries in Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield. The national network has proven potential to create essential knowledge-based businesses and jobs in devolved cities across the UK at a relatively low cost, due to its consolidation of existing resources, knowledge and public buildings, as well as its unique public-private partnership model.”

“An independent economic impact analysis of the national network over the period April 2013 – March 2015 revealed that Enterprising Libraries: … created a payback of £4.50 for every £1 of public money (estimated to grow to £25 payback for every £1 invested by 2018)”

International news

  • Library Love: The Jedi Are The Best Library Patrons In The Universe – Lit Reactor. “Lucas clearly understood something essential about libraries: the notion of library as place. This is that unmistakable positive feeling one has when entering a library in which one feels comfortable and inspired. The first library to make you love libraries probably had a strong sense of library as place. And if you have ever been to the Long Room at Trinity College, you will understand why it was the ideal model – it feels amazing. “

Local news by authority

  • Croydon – Croydon Council to shed 450 jobs over next three years – Croydon Advertiser. “Sara Bashford, vice chairman of the committee, asked for clarity over the council’s plans for libraries, which face a £217,000 (4.9 per cent) cut next year. “We’re quite determined, if it’s possible, to retain a full library service,” said Cllr Newman. “What we’ve said is we’re going to have to provide those services differently. Libraries need to evolve.”
  • Dudley – Dudley’s libraries to offer iPad taster sessions – Halesowen News. “Other support on offer in libraries includes on-the-spot help with simple problems and drop-in sessions for help with Internet, e-mail and form filling, including online applications and job searches. “
  • East Sussex – Uckfield library hours may be cut by 25 per cent – Uckfield News. ““The proposal is one of a number of potential measures we have identified that could save £2million from the running costs of our libraries and contribute towards the county council’s overall savings plan. “Our libraries are not well used at all times of the day.”
  • Fife – Glenrothes library campaigners: ‘We’re running out of time…’ – Fife Today. “Campaigners reeling from Fife Council’s decision to close 16 libraries, including four within the Glenrothes area, say time is now running out for alternative provision to be found. Community groups have until Christmas to come forward with their own proposals ahead of the closure plan scheduled for spring 2016.” … ““We have repeatedly requested impact assessments for each of these closures and received nothing. People are starting to realise it was always a done deal.”
  • Greenwich – Greenwich Conservatives propose policy to protect borough’s libraries – News Shopper. “Conservative councillors in Greenwich have proposed a new policy to protect smaller libraries in the borough amidst fears for their future. Described as a “Library Lock” proposal, the fresh policy is due to be debated this evening at the Greenwich full council meeting in Woolwich town hall.” … “The move follows the Labour-run council’s decision to consult on closing the Greenwich mobile library service which currently stops at 18 roadside locations, six primary schools and 27 nurseries, issuing 30,000 items a year.  Local Conservatives have expressed fears over a “creeping centralisation” of library services to the bigger centres in Greenwich, Woolwich and Eltham, which could put eight smaller libraries at risk of closure.” … “Between them, these smaller libraries serve more than half a million visitors and issue more than 250,000 items, a year. “
  • Lancashire – ‘Save Garstang Library’ campaign launched – Garstang Courier. “now county councillor for Garstang, Sandra Perkins, wants the town to rally together in an attempt to save the “vital” resource. She said: “The library is one of two community spaces in the town and it is something we really shouldn’t be losing. “I want people to really get behind this and write to show their support.”