Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Third Special Report

Appendix 1



Sixth Report, Session 1999-2000

Public Libraries


1. When the Government responded to the Committee's Report, the consultation on the public library standards had just finished and a final version had not been published. Inevitably, some of the responses were conditional on the final standards and the Committee asked for a further response. There were also some additional questions. Where requested, therefore, we set out below our further response on the recommendations of the Sixth Report. It should be read in conjunction with our earlier response.[10]

2. The public library standards were published on 12 February 2001.[11] They came into effect from 1 April 2001, and DCMS will monitor and assess performance against them through the Annual Library Planning process. Detailed arrangements will be set out in the guidance to authorities for preparing their next cycle of Annual Library Plans, commencing in April 2001. This is in preparation and will be published shortly, after consultation with the public library sector. Through the Local Government Association and the Library Association, as well as the Society of Chief Librarians, the sector has been fully involved with developing the standards and the Government intends to continue this partnership.

3. There will be a three year period for compliance with the standards and we are prepared to sit down with any library authority that is facing particular problems in order to agree a strategy for development of their service. In the first instance, we envisage that authorities should take the opportunity of their Annual Library Plan 2001 to report on their position in relation to the standards and their strategy for development.

4. The powers of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to intervene in a library authority are governed by two pieces of legislation: the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, and the Best Value provisions of the Local Government Act 1999. The Government will issue shortly further guidance, setting out how the two sets of intervention powers will be used in the case of failure by a library authority over time to improve their services, or deal with serious deterioration.

5. Library standards, backed by Annual Library Plans and Best Value, reflect the Government's desire to strengthen public libraries. They are a vital element in the public services of this country. They are welcoming spaces held in great affection by their communities. They provide a focus for individual learning for people of all ages and access to vital information and community networks for the socially excluded; they are a gateway to local arts and cultural activity; and they are leading the drive to increase the use of ICT among all sectors of society.

6. We have also published an analysis of the responses to our wide and public consultation on draft library standards, which took place in 2000.[12]

7. We set out below our response to the remaining additional questions of the Committee under the appropriate recommendations of the Sixth Report.

(ii)    The precise role of MLAC, or "Resource" as it now prefers to call itself, within the library sector remains shadowy. For example, there is no reference to the role of the new body in the Government's recently published document on library standards. We recommend that the Government clarify the precise roles which it expects "Resource" to perform in the library sector as a matter of urgency.

(iii)    The roles for MLAC are, of course, dependent to some extent upon the resources available to it. Lord Evans said: "If we do not get extra resources it would have been rather pointless forming this new organisation". We agree. It is incumbent upon the Government to send the right signals to the library sector by increasing its financial commitment to the strategic body which it has chosen to create.

8. In July 2000, DCMS announced Resource's grant-in-aid allocation for the period 2001-04. Discussions are continuing between DCMS and Resource on the extent of Resource's future responsibilities for public libraries. However, the Department has announced its intention of transferring to Resource the advisory role currently performed by the Advisory Council on Libraries (ACL). This is dependent on progress with the Culture and Recreation Bill, which provides for the abolition of the ACL and for Resource to be established as a statutory corporation.

(v)    The book stock is rightly seen as central to the quality of a library service. The DCMS has recently set out its proposed standards to monitor expenditure on books and other materials and the quantity and quality of the book stock. We welcome these standards in principle, although we have not had an opportunity to examine them in detail. We note that the Department canvasses the possibility of determining quality "as a percentage of the titles nominated for the major literary prizes in the year of the report combined with a selection of the top 500 best­selling titles". We are surprised that no reference is made in the proposed criteria for determining quality to the popularity of books as indicated by the Public Lending Right scheme.

9. In our earlier response, we emphasised the importance of the written word and, in keeping with this, the public library standards stress that "up-to-date and attractive bookstocks are central to keeping public libraries alive". Further work needs to be done to develop quality indices for public library bookstocks during 2001-02. This will take account of existing work by the Audit Commission in respect of fiction. Meanwhile, library authorities will be asked to report in their Annual Library Plans on relevant information from Best Value inspections carried out within the immediate cycle of Best Value reviews.

(vii)    Library authorities must try to steer a course that satisfies the competing claims for ideal opening times. We expect the published library standards to provide local authorities with further guidance on minimal opening hours for individual libraries and ensure that library authorities adopt opening regimes that take account of the needs of the client population.

(viii)    We recommend that any standard for the location of libraries should be linked specifically to modes of transport and in particular to measures of the quality of public transport provision. We further recommend that the standards as finally issued should require authorities to assess the community value of individual libraries, a value which goes beyond internal definitions of user satisfaction, even if this community value is not readily susceptible to statistical analysis.

10. There are four public library standards covering location and access which library authorities will have to address. They cover the location of libraries in relation to households living within a fixed distance, unscheduled closures, and opening hours. In addition, library authorities will be asked to report in their Annual Library Plans on: their policy for opening hours outside 9.00 am-5.00 pm on weekdays and on the proportion of their aggregate opening hours outside that core; and the merits of opening their "first choice" libraries for resident populations in excess of 150,000 for more than 60 hours per week. When assessing the proportion of households served by static service points, DCMS will accept as a contextual indicator the authority's own estimate of the proportion of households served by mobile libraries on scheduled routes; a similar approach will be taken in relation to ease of travelling to a library.

(x)    This Committee is concerned that the relevant authorities recognise that different disabled groups have specific and distinctive requirements for access to libraries and that funding allocations reflect this fact. We endorse the Library Association's suggestion and recommend that the Government seek to expand the Share the Vision model to all disabled groups.

11. In 2000-01, a grant of £200,000 from DCMS for the Share the Vision/Resource programme was used to complete, publish and distribute Library Services for Visually Impaired People: A Manual of Best Practice[13]and to continue work on the Reveal project. This is a web-based national database of accessible formats and its completion will form the major part of the work programme for 2001-02 (supported by a further grant from DCMS). In addition, Resource has allocated funding to begin to roll out the programme to museums and archives and to cover other disabilities in libraries. The first step is to conduct a survey of services and facilities for all disabled users of libraries, museums and archives. This is due to be completed in May and will be used to identify priorities for development and best practice in this area. Resource plan to develop a methodology for measuring access as part of an action plan based on this research. Resource has also published The Disability Directory for museums and galleries[14]. They aim to make future work cross sectoral and cross disability. As part of the development of their web site they are planning a new Access and Inclusion Zone containing up-to-date guidance on current issues and demonstrating accessibility in action.

(xi)    We welcome the commitment that mobile libraries will provide access to information and communication technology and urge the Government and local authorities to make urgent efforts to overcome the barriers to such access.

12. The Government is committed to providing Internet access to all who want it by 2005 and a range of measures are in place to achieve this.

13. As noted in our earlier response, the New Opportunities Fund (NOF) is running the Community Access to Lifelong Learning Programme (CALL) which will enable all static public libraries to offer public Internet access by the end of 2002. NOF has set aside up to £5 million from the CALL programme as a challenge fund to encourage innovative solutions, including mobile library connectivity. Library authorities can also use funds from their NOF allocation for mobile libraries provided all their static libraries are also connected.

14. However, for some locations provision of ICT through a mobile library is not the best solution. As noted above, by the end of 2002 all 4,300 static public libraries in the UK will provide public Internet access. In addition the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) is running a £252 million programme to establish learning centres in areas where people might otherwise be socially excluded. DCMS is also exploring with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) the role which the post office network might play in delivery of library services in rural areas.

15. DfEE and the Office of the e-Envoy have jointly commissioned a study that aims to map and collate information on all points of access to the Internet that are open to the public, and will include facilities offered by the public and private sectors and voluntary organisations. This will help assess progress towards achieving the 2005 public Internet access target.

(xii)    This Committee is pleased to note that the Annual Library Plans include an emphasis on social exclusion issues, and trusts that that emphasis will lead to continued improvements in this aspect of library provision. We recommend that the implemented national library standards provide more specific guidance on the promotion of social inclusion. We further recommend that the Government ensure the collection and publication of comprehensive statistics on library use by all socially excluded groups.

16. The public library standards contain a number of specific references to the promotion of social inclusion. In particular, they stress that a library authority should conduct a community profiling exercise, identify the different segments of library needs and adapt or develop existing services better to meet them. In addition, to help auditors and inspectors judge whether a library authority is planning to provide effective, relevant and improved services, Annual Library Plans will have to include in future local targets for services to socially excluded people, ethnic minority communities and people with disabilities, as well as for children.

17. Statistics on social inclusion, including the use of museums, libraries and archives by excluded groups, is one of the key themes in Resource's ongoing review of statistical needs. In particular, Resource are currently discussing with the Office of National Statistics and the Audit Commission ways in which they might develop outcome-based performance data, covering users of all kinds, including excluded groups.

(xiii)    We recommend that the Government and the higher education funding councils support the continued establishment and development of collaborative, cross­sectoral initiatives between public libraries and libraries of all institutions of higher education, based on the principle of open access.

18. Since October 2000, an Inter-Departmental Steering Group comprising officials of DfEE and DCMS has been considering the recommendations of the Education and Libraries Task Group of the Library and Information Commission in the report Empowering the Learning Community.[15] They have been advised on this by an External Group comprising organisations from the library and education sectors. The Government's response to Empowering the Learning Community was launched at a conference in London on 28 March 2001.

(xiv)    It is a matter for regret that the potentially invaluable role of public libraries was neglected during the development of the National Grid for Learning and the University of Industry. If there is to be continuity in the delivery of information and communication technology, it is essential that, even at this late stage, libraries are seen to be at the centre and not at the periphery of the delivery of these new services. However, the role now envisaged for public libraries in Lifelong Learning by MLAC and Ministers appears to be in line with the best traditions of the public library service. We recommend that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Education and Employment work together with library authorities to ensure that libraries can play an integral role within the wider delivery of Lifelong Learning and that funding arrangements reflect this.

19. In our earlier response, we stressed that the role of public libraries had not been neglected in the development of the National Grid for Learning and the University for Industry and we set out in full the various actions taken to ensure that libraries can play an integral role within the wider delivery of Lifelong Learning. The next key step will be the Government's response to Empowering the Learning Community, which we have already mentioned at paragraph 18 above.

(xvi)    We strongly support the British Library in its endeavours to continue its digitalisation of internationally important books and manuscripts. We recommend that, wherever possible, those images should be freely available on the Internet. We consider that support for this process should be considered a high priority for Lottery or Government funding as appropriate. It should be the Government's avowed aim to establish the British Library as a hub for the United Kingdom and the international library network. This will enable the British Library to become a universal resource rather than the preserve of a relatively small number of users on the site—a library for the many not just for the few. The expansion of the British Library's role should not be at the expense of and should in no way compromise the performance of the British Library's core statutory functions.

20. The digital infrastructure of the British Library (BL) is being critically enhanced by an agreement concluded with IBM during autumn 2000. This provides for a digital store which will form the technical platform to support the Library's acquisition and preservation of collection materials in digital form, together with digitised elements of its own historical collections. The digital store will be designed using the Open Archival Information System (OAIS) reference model and will build on the work of the CEDARS digital preservation project, within which the BL is acting as a test site. The Dutch national library, the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB), has embarked simultaneously on a similar project with IBM, and the BL envisages working in close collaboration with the KB as both move into uncharted digital territories. The British Library hopes to contribute to, and share findings from, the international digital preservation research agenda, not least by providing an excellent test-bed for such work.

21. The Library has also established a Digitisation Policy Group, bringing together staff from a wide range of areas with an involvement in digitisation, including collections areas, preservation, reading rooms, information systems and publishing. The Group will determine priorities for digitisation of BL materials and develop standards which will be applied to all future projects.

22. The Library has made a number of bids for funding to support particular digitisation projects and is also taking forward a number of other projects. These include two applications to the New Opportunities Fund Digitisation of Learning Materials Programme, in which the Library has succeeded in reaching the second round of applications, and the establishment of a new web site, following collaboration with Keio University and NTT Inc, which will enable scholars to explore in detail the British Library's copies of the Gutenberg Bible. The Library is also a founding partner of, which aims to establish itself as 'the premier site for interactive and authenticated knowledge and education on the Web'.

23. The BL is also engaged in a range of international digital cultural projects, including the International Dunhuang Project (IDP), which is re-assembling, in a virtual environment, a dispersed, fragile and relatively inaccessible collection of 5th-10th century Buddhist manuscripts held in China, France, Russia and the Library itself. During 2000, the Higher Education Funding Council (England) agreed to provide funding over five years as a contribution to the BL work on the Dunhuang material. A grant was also received from the Mellon Foundation for five years' work including the digitisation of material at the National Library of China.

24. The Library was also successful in its bid to the 'Invest to Save' budget for funding a joint proposal with the Public Record Office and the Office for National Statistics to create an online resource for the teaching of citizenship, a compulsory National Curriculum subject in secondary schools from September 2002.

25. In looking ahead to 2001-02, the Digitisation Policy Group will determine priorities for the digitisation of the Library's materials to agreed criteria; compile and maintain an up-to-date digitisation project register of all BL projects; develop and promote adherence to standards for all Library digitisation projects for imaging, metadata and service delivery; and monitor the provision of funding, staff and IS resources for digitisation projects.

26. Other BL plans for 2001-02 include engagement in a number of ongoing and prospective digitisation initiatives, including the two NOF bids mentioned at paragraph 21 above, the Dunhuang Project, and further work in partnership with a number of organisations such as Keio University, Octavo and Bell & Howell. Meanwhile, the BL Picture Library is working on two major projects with the objective of making British Library images more widely available via the Internet. Both are commercial initiatives but the images can be re-purposed for other commercial and non-commercial projects.

(xviii)  We recommend that the Government encourages local authorities to pursue vigorously the scope for support for public libraries from the private sector through sponsorship or other means.

27. We indicated in our earlier response that we would look for information on the introduction of new services funded by new sources of income in our analysis of Annual Library Plans 2000, which was subsequently published in January 2001.[16] The evidence is that some authorities are developing services through partnerships and/or with private sector income. However, this is an area which needs further development, although the evidence also shows some imaginative initiatives being undertaken, such as a reader development scheme in partnership with a local transport operator.

(xix)    We recommend that the review of local authority funding should specifically examine the funding of regional cultural facilities, including libraries, and consider whether adjustments to the Revenue Support Grant formula should encompass the additional cost burden of such facilities that serve a wide population. We further recommend that local authorities be permitted to charge for library services provided to businesses located outside the geographical area of the funding local authority.

28. The Government is considering the many responses made to its Green Paper on Local Government Finance and will be publishing its proposals later this year. The funding of regional facilities is one of a number of issues which will be considered within the context of the Government's aims for local government finance set out in the Green Paper. Those aims particularly relevant to the funding of regional facilities are being fair to those who use and pay for local authority services, being intelligible and transparent to all stakeholders, and making partnership working easier. However there are tensions between some of the aims, and many competing issues within local government finance. These will need to be balanced out in the final proposals.

(xx)    Library authorities are at present entitled to charge for networked and multimedia services. However, while it is true that charging for networked services may regulate demand for a popular service we believe that networked and multimedia services must now be regarded as core services of public libraries together with books. Present policy separates them through charging whereas they should all be regarded as staple services. That being so, although Mr Howarth doubted that charging would exclude some users, we consider it is now time to assert that Internet and multimedia services are as much core library services as books. Therefore, we recommend that there should be no charges placed on networked and multimedia services.

(xxi)    We recommend that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport seeks to develop further standards relating to charges and fine income before implementing its library standards.

29. The charging powers of library authorities, originally set out in Section 8 of the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act, were clarified by the Library Charges (England and Wales) Regulations 1991, which came into force in January 1992.[17] Each library authority has the power to provide facilities for the borrowing of books and other materials by any individual, but the duty to lend free of charge extends only to written material in eye-readable form lent to individuals who live, work or study full-time in the library authority area. Each authority also has a duty to provide access to reference services free of charge and this duty is not limited to persons within the authority's area.

30. It is for each library authority to decide whether or not to charge for any library facility for which charging is authorised by the Regulations. Library authorities are able to decide the point at which any charge is made, and whether concessions are applicable, taking into account local needs and circumstances. Library authorities must have regard also to their statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service when setting charges. Charges must be reasonable and can be subject to judicial review. They should not be a barrier to access. The Secretary of State is empowered by Section 154 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 to impose a maximum limit to any charge and, if necessary, is able to seek revision of the Regulations to set a ceiling on any charging provision where appropriate.

31. As noted in our initial response to the Select Committee, guidance issued to library authorities by NOF for funding for infrastructure under the CALL programme stipulates that Internet access should normally be offered free of charge. Where charges are made, the authority is required to explain how it intends to meet the needs of people at risk of social exclusion. The public library standards note that every static service point is required to offer public Internet access by December 2002, and set a standard for the ratio of workstations to users per thousand population as equal or more than 6 per 10,000 population. Currently, 36 per cent of public libraries in the UK offer free public Internet access, but funding from the CALL programme only began to flow in January 2001 and the effect of this funding is not yet reflected in the statistics.

April 2001

10   Third Special Report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Public Libraries: Government Response to the Sixth Report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Session 1999-2000, HC (1999-2000) 867. Back

11   Comprehensive, Efficient and Modern Public Libraries-Standards and Assessment, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2001. Available gratis. The document can also be accessed via the Department's web Back

12   Analysis of the Consultation on Draft Public Library Standards, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2001. Available gratis. The document can also be accessed via the Department's web Back

13   Library Services for Visually Impaired People: A Manual of Best Practice, (Library and Information Commission Research Report 76), Resource, 2000. ISBN 1902394437. The Manual is also available in alternative formats-Braille, Audio Cassette, and Computer Disc-and on the web site of the National Library for the Back

14   The full text of the publication is available on the Resource web Back

15   Empowering the Learning Community, Report of the Education and Libraries Task Group to the Secretaries of State for Culture, Media and Sport and for Education and Employment, Library and Information Commission, 2000, Back

16   Appraisal of Annual Library Plans 2000-Report on Outcomes and Issues, DCMS, 2001. Available gratis. The document can also be accessed via the Department's web Back

17   The Library Charges (England and Wales) Regulations 1991, S.I., 1991, No. 2712. ISBN 0 11 015935. Back

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