Last Word

06.01.17

Some libraries are better than others

Source: PSE Dec/Jan 16

Helen Milner, chief executive of Good Things Foundation, formerly the Tinder Foundation, expands on the organisation’s recent claims that protecting libraries at all costs could be holding the sector back, and that those which fail to serve communities need to close – with funding being channelled to those mindful of community needs instead.

At the end of October, I said something which shocked a few people. Although I had said it before, the article I published did cause something of a stir. I said that some libraries were better than others. And I said that if we wanted to protect the really good ones, then some of the empty or failing libraries should improve or even close. 

It was heartening to see how many people came out in defence of libraries. Libraries clearly have many friends and I would definitely count myself amongst them. I love libraries – when they are fulfilling their potential. 

The piece was in response to a debate in the House of Lords about libraries and bookshops. In it, publisher Baroness Rebuck cited libraries as key community ‘hubs’ where, alongside books, people can rely on other essential life services. I think lots of libraries do perform this function, but not all, and I think we can support the ones that don’t tend to be better.

At Good Things Foundation, we work on a day-to-day basis with lots of great community organisations – including great libraries – doing amazing things for local people. They’re called the Online Centres Network. And while what they do for us is in the nature of digital inclusion, they are also involved in literacy, adult education, community cohesion, health programmes, and much, much more. 

Many ‘community hubs’ are suffering under austerity and, despite innovating around income generation, they are still struggling to make ends meet. And they are all having to do more for less to make things work for the communities they serve. They are not all getting a Lords debate, or extensive media coverage. That doesn’t seem very fair to me. 

I do not want great libraries, or great community centres, to close their doors. And I am very aware of how hard many library staff, local authority staff, and community organisation staff are working – how much they are being asked to do with much smaller budgets.

But I do want us to talk about quality and relevance. I want us to look strategically at the bigger picture of what communities need and how they are being served. 

What I’d like to see next is a national strategic development plan for libraries. I would like to see libraries given a mandate to put social inclusion at the heart of their services. And then I would like to see us celebrate and demonstrate the impact libraries have, so we can prove they’re so valuable that no one in their right mind would dare to shut another one.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

W: www.goodthingsfoundation.org

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@publicsectorexecutive.com

Comments

Tim Coates   06/01/2017 at 10:14

There are lots of public functions- both state and private - that have 'social inclusion' at the heart of their intentions - even corner shops and pubs - bus services and churches . But a library offers social inclusion because it gives people the opportunity to read and read widely. The only significant impact measure of a library is whether people read It is pointless trying to promote them as 'community hubs' if they don't perform that one key function. The decline of our UK library service is not recent - it has taken place over thirty years because slowly we have removed the depth of access to reading and written information and replaced them with other services in a wholly misguided attempt at 'social inclusion' by other means. Helen Milner missed the point that libraries have been failing because they offer poor service in their core activity - in the activity that people expect from them. It is not because they should be changed to be something else The evidence for what I say is so clear in library user surveys and performance data - just nobody looks at the figures before spouting some new theory about what needs to be done

Libraryuser1   06/01/2017 at 18:48

I’m not convinced of the need for a social exclusion mandate. People are typically socially excluded because of poverty or because they belong to a minority social group. By law public libraries must be available to all, lend books without charge and comply with the public sector equalities duty. Thus the mandate for public libraries to meet the needs of the socially excluded is built in. The proportion of library resource that goes into meeting the needs of particular groups is up to the local service and their councillors. At the moment lack of money is the problem - not mandates.

Add your comment

 

public sector executive tv

more videos >

latest public sector news

£1m boost to tackle illegal waste removal in the UK

22/10/2019£1m boost to tackle illegal waste removal in the UK

The Government has announced today (Oct 22) that up to £1m in funding is being awarded to fight waste crime in the UK. The money will ... more >
Almost £2m Rough Sleeping grant awarded for health of homeless

22/10/2019Almost £2m Rough Sleeping grant awarded for health of homeless

A Rough Sleeping grant of £1.9m has today (Oct 22) been awarded to 6 projects involving partnerships between Local Authorities (LAs) and Cl... more >
Government to protect domestic abuse survivors with local council support

21/10/2019Government to protect domestic abuse survivors with local council support

Local councils to provide life-saving support to domestic abuse survivors thanks to new legal duty announced by Government. From next year, ... more >

interviews

Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

17/12/2018Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

It’s no secret that the public sector and its service providers need to invest in technology to help make better use of their resources. Bu... more >
Digital innovation in the public sector: The future is now

17/12/2018Digital innovation in the public sector: The future is now

One of the public sector’s key technology partners has recently welcomed a new member to its team. Matt Spencer, O2’s head of public ... more >
New Dorset Councils CEO on the creation of a new unitary: ‘This is going to be the right decision for Dorset’

05/11/2018New Dorset Councils CEO on the creation of a new unitary: ‘This is going to be the right decision for Dorset’

The new chief executive of one of the new unitary authorities in Dorset has outlined his approach to culture and work with employees, arguing tha... more >
Keeping the momentum of the Northern Powerhouse

15/10/2018Keeping the momentum of the Northern Powerhouse

On 6 September, the biggest decision-makers of the north joined forces to celebrate and debate how to drive innovation and improvement through th... more >

editor's comment

25/10/2017Take a moment to celebrate

Devolution, restructuring and widespread service reform: from a journalist’s perspective, it’s never been a more exciting time to report on the public sector. That’s why I could not be more thrilled to be taking over the reins at PSE at this key juncture. There could not be a feature that more perfectly encapsulates this... read more >

last word

Prevention: Investing for the future

Prevention: Investing for the future

Rob Whiteman, CEO at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance (CIPFA), discusses the benefits of long-term preventative investment. Rising demand, reducing resource – this has been th... more > more last word articles >

comment

Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

21/06/2019Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

Taking time to say thank you is one of the hidden pillars of a society. Being on the receiving end of some “thanks” can make communit... more >
How community-led initiatives can help save the housing shortage

19/06/2019How community-led initiatives can help save the housing shortage

Tom Chance, director at the National Community Land Trust Network, argues that community-led initiatives are a productive way of helping to solve... more >
Aberdeen's green transport fleet attracting international attention

19/06/2019Aberdeen's green transport fleet attracting international attention

Aberdeen City Council’s hydrogen spokesperson, councillor Philip Bell, highlights the Granite City’s determination to play a leading ... more >
A fifth of public sector workers have never received a thank you from the people they serve

13/06/2019A fifth of public sector workers have never received a thank you from the people they serve

A fifth of the country’s public sector workers say they have NEVER received a ‘thank you’ for doing their job as Public Service... more >
One in three children with vision impairments missing out on specialist support

22/10/2019One in three children with vision impairments missing out on specialist support

Since 2017 thousands of children with vision impairments have had to suffer from cuts or frozen funding for specialist education services, a new report by the Royal National Institute of Blind Pe... more >
£1m boost to tackle illegal waste removal in the UK

22/10/2019£1m boost to tackle illegal waste removal in the UK

The Government has announced today (Oct 22) that up to £1m in funding is being awarded to fight waste crime in the UK. The money will also go towards preventing illegal waste from bein... more >

the raven's daily blog

NSPCC: Working together to improve the support available for children who have been sexually abused

08/10/2019NSPCC: Working together to improve the support available for children who have been sexually abused

Hayley Clark, the acting head of development and impact at the NSPCC, talks about the significant gap in support services for children who have been sexually abused and the Home Office’s new framework for commissioners. The complex and fragmented commissioning landscape for child sexual abuse support services has resulted in a signi... more >
read more blog posts from 'the raven' >