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New strategy encourages councils to use libraries as ‘community hubs’

Local authorities have been urged to consider using their libraries when delivering other public services in line with a new vision for the library sector, the civil society minister Rob Wilson has announced.

‘Libraries Deliver: Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016-2021’, a new strategy produced by the Libraries Taskforce, gives local authorities practical options to better utilise library buildings, staff and services, with the report finding that libraries should provide a larger range of public services such as employment, health and learning opportunities in order to be sustainable in the future.

The strategy also includes a new £4m ‘Opportunities for Everyone Innovation Fund’, managed by Arts Council England, which will finance new projects such as literary schemes, digital access and increasing schoolchildren’s engagement with libraries in disadvantaged communities. Libraries will work with partners on joint bids and show match-funding as part of their application to the fund.

Wilson, the minister responsible for England’s 3,000 public libraries, said: “If we are going to build a country that works for everyone then we need to recognise that libraries are among our most valuable community assets and they remain hugely popular.More people went to a library in England last year than visited the cinema, Premier League football games and the top 10 UK tourist attractions combined.”

“But standing still is not an option if libraries are to thrive and work best for communities in the 21st century. Libraries can flourish and prosper but this will take change and new thinking about our service. This strategy provides a blueprint for how libraries can be better utilised, to make them more resilient while still delivering vital public services to the communities that need them.”

In addition to supporting the government strategy, the Libraries Taskforce, a joint venture between the DCLG and the LGA, will support public libraries in England who wish to become public service mutuals, following successful predecessors in several counties across the country.

The Taskforce will also pilot new ways for libraries to generate income from government initiatives, such as the National Citizen Service programme which it will begin to explore in January 2017.

Dr Paul Blantern, chair of the Libraries Taskforce and chief executive of Northamptonshire County Council, said: “Libraries are vital community hubs - bringing people together, and giving them access to the services and support they need to help them live better.

“We want this report to reform through action. We already have some of the best libraries in the world; if we learn from them and deliver the shared ambitions we set out, then we will have a vibrant, thriving and world-class public library network in England.”

Arts Council England’s Brian Ashley, director of libraries, added that libraries have an unparalleled role in helping people overcome disadvantage, calling them ‘the gateway to opportunity’, and welcomed the additional funds and projects coming into the sector.

Cllr Ian Stephens, chairman of the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, hailed the creativity and ambition of library staff, but warned that library services must adapt in line with funding pressures and the changing expectations of their communities in order to thrive as ‘community hubs’.

“Councils support the proposals set out in Libraries Deliver, and the funding that the minister has made available to help libraries transform,” Cllr Stephens said.

“Improving libraries’ digital presence, training library staff in the new skills they need, and increasing their support offer for local businesses will help our libraries continue to deliver.”

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Libraryuser1   02/12/2016 at 20:26

The idea of community hubs has been around for 30 years+ so is hardly innovative. The £4m one off fund is positive but it should be seen in the context of the £294m (28%) drop in the cash spend on public libraries in England between 2010 and 2015. Library visits dropped 20% over the same period. Spending on libraries continues to fall. It is hard to see the new public libraries strategy achieving anything much without some fundamental changes in government policy.

Ann   05/12/2016 at 14:04

Yes indeed, and they have also re-absorbed independent learning, the need for which over a century ago led to their creation. It's no surprise that warmongers destroy libraries because they are not only the collective memory of a society but also because they allow people to find out for themselves. The developing world knows this and is creating them while the developed world, in GB at least, thinks we don't need them now that we have the Internet. Only this week are there reports of 'false news' and how to prevent this - Internet users need the help that staff can give. Closing down so many and leaving most of the rest to be run by volunteers is short sighted. One of the vital things that made properly staffed public libraries different was the opportunity for serendipity. By adopting the retail practice of 'give them what they want' this foundation of creativity will be lost. Shame.

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