In an online world, libraries should more than ever be at the very heart of our communities. This was according to Culture Secretary Andy Burnham when he launched a modernisation review of England’s public library service.
The announcement came on the same day as a report from Skills Secretary John Denham on informal learning, which called for public buildings like libraries and museums to be opened for use by adult learning groups.
Andy Burnham reiterated the value of the public library service in the digital era, and urged them to embrace their role as interesting, innovative places for the whole community.
“Our public library service is a fantastic national asset that has been empowering people and changing lives for more than 150 years. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that a high-quality, free service – responsive to local needs – is available to all.
“In the internet age, shared experiences and a shared sense of place are more important than ever. Libraries are ideally placed to be that – a welcoming and stimulating place at the heart of the community where people can come together to learn.
“Learning, literacy and the written word will always be the heartbeat of the service, but there’s much that can be done in addition to make them come alive for generations to come. There are some incredibly interesting things going on in our public libraries, far removed from the stereotype of dusty books and silence, that we should celebrate.
The review will look at how we share and build on that innovation, to make sure that our libraries have a vibrant future.”
The review will be led by Culture Minister Barbara Follett, and will take place over the next six months. A full report, including specific action points, will then be published for wider consultation. It will look at the key issues facing the sector and raised by the public, including:
How do we make sure that libraries deliver what the public wants in the future – what will get people through the door? And how do we make sure that libraries are open when the public want to use them?
How do we make sure that library staff have the skills to deliver a modern service?
How will libraries cope with the growth of the ebook?
How do we make sure libraries have the investment they need to modernise? Is part of this about looking at new ways of delivering – such as a shared site with a swimming pool or GP’s surgery?
Should libraries offer more shared learning – be that book groups, Spanish lessons or family history research?
And, linked to that, should libraries be silent places for reading? Or should they be social places for people to meet and discuss, perhaps with coffee shops or internet cafes?
Ms Follett said:
“Everyone has the right to first-class libraries, wherever they live. No one should have to put up with a lack-lustre service: inward-looking and appealing only to its ‘regulars’.
“Local priorities must be paramount, of course. Central Government should not – and will not – micro-manage the service. Our job is to set the national vision. So this review will go with the grain of national policy; strengthening insight into the ‘how’, without moving away from the ‘what’.”
The full text of the Secretary of State’s speech is available from the DCMS website here:
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