Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Mike Cavanagh

1. Summary

Comprehensive and efficient are “wooly” terms, which need to be defined.

An Accreditation standard and modest number of PI’s (Performance Indicators) for libraries will help to achieve this.

Without this, it is subjective as to whether closures are compatible with the act.

Impact studies are required to replace anecdote with evidence of impact of services and of closures.

Politics get in the way of the Secretary of States powers to intervene. This should be separately policed.

2. What constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century?

2.1 Ask 100 people this question and you will get 100 different answers. This is because there is no robust criteria and the terms “comprehensive” and “efficient” are not defined in the act.

2.2 The museum profession has the “Accreditation” standard, which lays out clearly what standards museums should be meeting. In effect, it covers the effectiveness part of what makes an efficient museum service, leaving only the economy aspect to be defined, since a combination of effectiveness and economy leads to efficiency.

2.3 The library profession urgently needs a set of robust standards (an Accreditation scheme for libraries) which could be modelled on “basic”, “good” and “best” practice to take account of different sizes and governance models of libraries.

2.4 Alongside these standards, a small set of performance indicators, with a government set “target” for each, could be used to assess comprehensiveness and efficiency.

2.5 One of these PI’s would be adherence to library accreditation.

2.6 Others might include for example, a formula to indicate clearly what comprehensive means. Examples might include:

Some form (would need to be defined) of library service must be made available within X miles of every household (comprehensive).

A library service should cost no more than £x per user or per population (economy).

2.7 Although there will clearly be calls for “one size does not fit all”, the current approach that takes this mantra leaves the library profession weak in being able to clarify what comprehensive and efficient means, and this leads to inconsistencies, multiple interpretations and conflict.

3. The extent to which planned library closures are compatible with the requirements of the Libraries & Museums Act 1964 and the Charteris Report

3.1 Without undertaking the work advocated above, any answer to this question is entirely subjective and meaningless. If these terms (comprehensive and efficient) become defined as I’ve suggested above, then the extent to which closures comply with the act (or otherwise) would be clear and easy to demonstrate.

4. The impact library closures have on local communities

4.1 This is not easy to answer robustly because there is little in the way of robust research on the impact of libraries. There is some, and this should be used to determine impact, but more work is urgently required. Without this, we are left with anecdote and “feelings” from some that much is being lost and from others that little is being lost, without either party being able to evidence it.

4.2 Research should be commissioned immediately. For example, I’m currently undertaking research with Aberystywyth university on the effectiveness of volunteers in delivering public libraries services. There is a huge need for this type of research, because decisions are being made now to replace staff with volunteers, based on a lack of understanding of the impact of this policy and indeed of what librarians do. The same is required on impact of closures.

5. The effectiveness of the Secretary of State’s powers of intervention under the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964

5.1 This is difficult to answer without becoming political. Clearly the Secretary of State has the power to intervene and stop closures that don’t comply with the act. However, the current administration clearly don’t wish to do so as they have made reducing spending in the public sector their key priority and intervention would conflict with this and their general “localism” philosophy.

5.2 The only way to improve effectiveness of policing of local authorities that break the act is to make the policing independent of government. If this is not done, clearly there will be no intervention from this government.

December 2011

Prepared 5th November 2012