Having an organisation or consulting body advise, improve and advocate for a collective can provide assistance with accelerating change and developments to a whole industry. Commonly, libraries follow this approach by being associated with entities such as consortiums, library systems, or partnerships which can lead to valuable knowledge transfer, sharing of resources and many other benefits.

All libraries will have their own set of specific challenges, strengths and unique communities that they serve. Having an entity full of driven library advocates to help guide libraries is an advantageous resource that helps with the betterment of libraries. In this week’s post Princh guest writer Isobel Hunter, Chief Executive from Libraries Connected discusses delivering a sustainable future for UK libraries.

Photo from Libraries Connected

Over the last decade, libraries have evolved enormously to deliver an ever-wider range of services and take their place at the centre of their communities. We know that libraries bring multiple benefits to local communities in areas such as early years, education, health and social care. However, we also recognise that local authorities are working in times of unprecedented challenge and are struggling to manage huge financial reductions across all service areas.

Libraries Connected have begun to make the case that libraries are an essential part of the infrastructure for a modern society but that they need adequate resourcing to deliver their services effectively. We believe firmly that we’re not here to keep libraries as they are, or to revert to what they were, but that our role is to help them to evolve to meet the current needs of their communities.

We are funded by Arts Council England as the sector support organisation for public libraries. We are also a membership organisation that represents every public library service in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. As such, we are in a unique position to represent and advocate for libraries nationally as well as provide support through our regional networks.

We can also curate exciting national programmes of work such as our partnership with the BBC that we announced recently. This is a major new campaign to promote reading and libraries to new and diverse audiences particularly in deprived, rural and minority ethnic communities. Funded in part by a £253,000 grant from Arts Council England’s National Lottery Project Grants programme, the aim is to really grow the joy and fun of reading through a range of activities and digital experiences in libraries.

  • Libraries Connected 2
Photo from Libraries Connected

The Future

Since we became a charity last year, we’ve begun several significant projects to improve the support and environment for public libraries. The blueprint report, that we just launched in partnership with CILIP and Carnegie UK, highlights several key strands of work that will lead to long-term improvements in the foundations, governance and leadership of the sector. These include:

  • A regional support offer. We have embarked on a programme of work to provide the additional systems and resources to help library leaders respond to the strategic challenges they face. The programme began with the creation of a business case for regional support which recommended a future model for this. We are now beginning to implement this model, drawing on funding from the Libraries Taskforce and Arts Council England, and focusing on two main workstreams: network support to help regional networks to build their capacity and an expert bank to provide library services with access to specialist expertise. We’re designing these support programmes together with our members and key partners.
  • Nationally co-ordinated workforce development. Building on the work of the Public Library Skills strategy, in partnership with CILIP, we are developing an annual plan and overseeing the activity. We are also excited to launch Leading Libraries next month, which aims to drive diversity among library leaders by working with female and minority ethnic library staff who have the potential to lead libraries in the future. We will recruit 15 emerging leaders from 15 library services for a programme that combines professional training with practical delivery. We are leading the project with CILIP and it is funded by Arts Council England as part of their Transforming Leadership programme.
  • The development of a national accreditation framework. This element relates to how we can provide a better definition of the Libraries Act to help services make the case for the multiple benefits they deliver to local communities. We are keen to establish a system that works for libraries and gives them the tools they need to advocate for their services. Our members have made clear that they want a framework that will work as a service improvement plan and support libraries’ continued commitment to high standards and innovation. They also want a system that is built around users and their needs to support libraries to deliver locally defined and responsive services and we will work over the coming months to create this.

If we manage to pull all this off, it will mean a more sustainable framework for libraries; a team to support each library service to not only survive change, but to develop to its best potential; a stronger and more diverse leadership; and a clear definition for public libraries with a tool to define what this means in each locality.

These are hugely ambitious goals in the current climate but it’s essential that we try to set these in motion now, before budgets are squeezed even tighter. We have a wonderful group of dedicated members with the expertise to guide us through these changes and to make sure that we deliver a bright and sustainable future for public libraries in the UK.

We will be back next week with another interesting article from the library world!

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