Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by The Reading Agency (arts 127)

This response to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee Inquiry is from The Reading Agency, which is an independent charity working to inspire people to read more. It specialises in helping libraries to radically modernise their reading service.

This response:

· Outlines the case for modernisation of library services

· Comments on the impact of spending cuts on libraries and the arts

· Describes the successful Reading Agency model

· Examines the possibilities for an enhanced role in the future

· Touches on issues around arts organisation collaboration

1) Modernisation

The Reading Agency believes there is huge potential for modernising the public library service and its reading offer. There are several core areas that will benefit from a focussed approach to development:

· Big Society strategy. Using libraries and reading to create a whole new wave of community reading activism and ensuring libraries feature in the National Citizens Service.

· Health offer. Levering in health sector investment to create an integrated library health offer to the public and health and social care partners, combining information and creative reading.

· National membership from birth scheme building on the success of the National Year of Reading membership drive in 2008 that recruited 2.3 million new members.

· Major advocacy campaign to promote the library offer and its key USPs including its status as a widely accessible cultural service free at the point of access; its role as a neutral community space; its expert staff; its national digital offer; and, key services such as social reading activity, health and well being services, children’s and young people’s services.

· Digital development. Building shared digital marketing with publishers and a joint approach to the delivery of electronic book content; linking BBC/Race Online partnerships to national reading programmes in libraries; online provision of virtual social reading space increasing access and building capacity.

· Adult and community learning. Supporting libraries in consolidating local partnerships to help people re-engage with learning and develop their skills for individual, social and economic benefit.

· Educational and cultural partnerships. Developing libraries’ partnership working with schools, and their potential to make a wider cultural offer by linking to other arts forms, e.g. film, music, theatre, visual arts.

2) The impact of spending cuts on public libraries

· We believe that the reported picture of decline in library use is not a straightforward decline in public interest and take up. Children’s and young people’s use of libraries is steady (latest DCMS Taking Part statistics) and children’s book borrowing has risen for five years running. Web visits have risen by 50% (CIPFA Library statistics, May 2010).

· The evidence shows that where libraries offer a more dynamic, interactive reading service, the public respond with alacrity. Two of The Reading Agency’s most successful programmes, the Summer Reading Challenge for children and the Six Book Challenge for emergent adult readers prove this (see attached information). The number of library linked reading groups has more than doubled in the last four years. There are now somewhere in the region of 10,000 library linked groups reaching 100,000 people (TRA Reading Group mapping data).

· In tough financial times, we cannot afford to undercut libraries’ ability to create a nation of readers. Our literacy skills deficit is already too large. The scale of cuts means that the library network is unlikely to survive in its current shape, so prioritizing and innovating will be key. The challenge is to scale up what is working and support the development of a dynamic, modernised reading service which captures the interest of the public.

· We must not lose sight of libraries’ radical social purpose. They are about creating a fairer society and engaging local communities through the provision of vital community services in spaces that represent community focal points. They help people become skilled readers with major implications for their life chances. They also provide social engagement opportunities that help connect people, improve quality of life and support the health and well being of individuals and communities. They should not be soft targets for cuts.

3) The impact of funding cuts on The Reading Agency

· We believe that the work we do through reading and libraries is important to supporting a healthy, diverse and vibrant local cultural landscape.

· We have a robust financial model supported by a diverse funding mix and a thin and lean organisational structure but we would struggle to continue to deliver innovation and new thinking as well as core service delivery to the sector without the foundation of public subsidy.

· We receive core funding from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (£158,000 in 2010/11). Losing this funding would have a major impact on our ability to take this work forward. It would also damage our role in helping libraries work more efficiently by pooling resources/ working across boundaries and delivering the cost-saving benefits of national programmes.

· We are also core funded by Arts Council England (£235,353 in 2010/11). Cuts in this funding would seriously undermine our work.

4) The Reading Agency model

· We support innovation, alongside helping libraries reduce costs at local level by pooling expertise and resources to achieve better value for money.

· We can help libraries tune in to big policy agendas and funding streams such as health and well being, informal adult learning.

· We’re all about creative ways of changing frontline delivery, using national and regional co-ordination to make a difference locally.

· We have developed a "sign up" model which enables us to offer nationally co-ordinated work which authorities can draw on to make efficiencies.

· We’re good at levering in partnerships and investment to inject resources for local people. We work with and are supported by a portfolio of big national partners including broadcasters, commercial publishers, businesses, the TUC and adult learning organisations that bring new resources and expertise into the sector.

· We have a raft of evidence to show that our approach makes a real impact locally, particularly in the areas of health and well being, social reading activity, adult learning and for children, young people, families and older people.

· In the spirit of the times we do this at a very low cost - we currently have only 13 full time staff supported by a virtual network of specialist consultants.

· We deliver a national workforce development programme that focuses on sharing good practice and skills development in key areas such as volunteering, health and well being and adult learning.

"It’s an inclusive model – The Reading Agency, library leaders, workforce and customers working together at a strategic and delivery level. Working together is more cost effective – it enables us to create economies of scale, share good practice regionally and nationally, yet flexible enough to reflect local need"

Nicky Parker, President, Society of Chief Librarians

5) Building on existing work – an enhanced role

We want to continue to develop existing work that is driving change in the library system. This includes programmes like the Summer Reading Challenge (involving 97% of English authorities and 725,000 children); partnerships like the Reading Partners scheme involving 40 publishers (see attached); and, developmental work in the areas of health, volunteering, young people’s participation and adult literacy

Although our specialism is reading, we already play a much wider library development role in order to drive changes in the system. We are interested in exploring how we might play an enhanced role in the future.

Some enhanced functions which could develop out of our current work are:

· Future Libraries Programme: we’re exploring how we can weave our expertise through the work of the current ten successful bidders. We also think there is huge potential to apply the current Future Libraries model and the learning it delivers to focus in on key areas – e.g. the delivery of a shared and efficient modernised reading service.

· Connecting libraries to policy and market developments: e.g. ensuring libraries feature in the National Citizens Service; helping libraries develop their digital offer from ebooks to linking reading to gaming and other digital technologies; coordinating the national Youth and Adult Learning Boards; a clearly defined health and well being offer.

· Library research: we understand the evidence base and are experts in library based research. We want to build on our current expertise working with key stakeholders to develop effective tools to measure the impact of reading in relation to health and well being, learning and community engagement and to better understand user trends.

· Partnerships: we want to build on the potential of our national partnership base, for example, connecting the BBC/library partnership to the wider Arts Council/BBC partnership. We also want to lever in new national partners to support libraries’ work with reading including from the health and social care sector and to support reading group activity.

· Campaigning and advocacy: we want to speak with a unified voice for public libraries providing a key advocacy platform from which to raise their profile and promote them as partners of choice.

· Big Society: we have the skills to support community engagement and participation in the shaping and delivery of library services.

· Workforce development: building on our existing and respected workforce development programme linked to volunteering, cross cutting local authority reading strategy development, adult learning and health and well being.

6) Arts collaboration

We are already key players in a radical new model for bringing arts organisations to work more closely together through Free Word, a consortium of literature, literacy and free expression organisations based at the Free Word Centre. This is a developing model which is already highlighting the potential for shared service development and back room functions. It also enables us to add value to our library offer through our close working association with partner organisations.

7) Efficiencies

We would like the opportunity to talk to the Select Committee about future models for efficiencies, whilst improving the quality of library services. The Reading Agency is ideally placed to help libraries innovate and make efficiencies. We take an entrepreneurial approach to development work and would be happy to share our evidence and expertise with the Select Committee.

September 2010