Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten submission by the Black Country Shared Library Project

1. This submission is from the Black Country Shared Library Project which includes the Metropolitan Boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall and the City of Wolverhampton.

2. The project has been established to improve the quality and sustainability of our library services by maximising collaboration across the Black Country and achieving the efficient use of resources.

Summary

3. This submission includes:

(a)Information on the Black Country project’s key library values and outcomes for a comprehensive and efficient library service.

(b)Comments on when library closure could be compatible with the act, including concern about confusion that has occurred due the terminology that has been applied to some planned changes in the ways in which services are provided.

(c)The context and issues around changes to the way services are provided, and how these changes are planned, to the impact on local communities.

(d)The view that the Secretary of State’s powers of intervention under the Public Library and Museum’s Act 1964 is still valid and relevant, but that the way in which it is used and how this is communicated needs to change.

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

4. The neutrality, universality and accessibility of the library offer is extremely important—whether the library service is in a dedicated building or a partnership setting.

5. It is not the building but the service that is important, although an appropriate space and setting are important.

6. It is important to look at the full service not just one aspect eg only lending books or only information. It is only a library only if it includes both of these elements with support and facilitation of access to them and a wider community linking role.

7. A comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st Century:

(a)Facilitates supports, informs and works with its customers acting as a hub for the community it serves.

(b)Is innovative, challenging and customer focused.

(c)Is efficient, effective and value for money.

(d)Has reading at the centre—both for its own sake and for the benefits it brings in terms of improving literacy and health and well being benefits.

(e)Provides a range of services—the impact of the combination of services provided is greater than their individual parts.

(f)Supports a wide range of improved outcomes including literacy; employability; health and well being; quality of life.

(g)Works in partnership and not in isolation.

(h)Has relevant professional library input to develop and manage services—as librarians are information, reading and knowledge professionals—and appropriately trained staff to run them.

8. The above should be achievable within the budgets available, but the budgets available need to take account of the complete range of services and outcomes achieved. When it is broken down to only lending books or giving information the service is under valued and not properly represented.

9. Often libraries assist other services to achieve their savings—by providing local contact spaces for other services who close their offices; by offering local information and sign posting; by supporting people who do not or cannot use IT to access information which is now only available online.

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

10. In some instances what may be reported as a closure is actually a transfer of service to a different location or new partnership—need to be very clear about what is happening. Service not building.

11. If changes are developed with customers’ and potential customers’ needs fully considered and assessed with mitigations in place, where appropriate and affordable, closures may be appropriate in both cases.

12. If the cost of making the current building more flexible/fit for purpose is unaffordable.

13. Need to be done looking at library services as a whole, not just buildings. Sometimes buildings are no longer suitable/in the right place for communities. Need to separate the passion for the building from the service.

14. When focussing only on a particular building could lose the chance to create some innovative solutions for a community—but this is only possible if work with people as they will only think about/promote/fight for things they know and have seen before. Perceptions about what libraries do need changing to help possibilities develop.

The impact library closures have on local communities

15. Some library buildings are already not serving communities effectively because they are in the wrong place/not open/do not have the appropriate resources. They may serve a very small part of the community in which they are based in a way that is no longer affordable or sustainable in their current format.

16. The impact is greatest on those with limited ability to access services in other places either because of age (particularly the very old and the very young), disability or lack of access to resources like IT. These are the people who are often most disadvantaged in a range of ways.

17. Differs according to the community served by that library. Need to be aware of how many are only able to use that library in that location and review mitigating actions.

18. Will have an impact on a wide range of other services if library was used to access their services eg carers accessing information and company; children for their homework, reading and literacy; unemployed to apply for jobs; learning support for adults; all who cannot or will not access online information.

The effectiveness of the Secretary of State’s powers of intervention under the Public Library and Museum’s Act 1964

19. Appropriate if looking at the whole service provided and not just buildings closures—covered very clearly in the act and evidence should be easy to find.

20. Proactive and not reactive. Better if used more overtly when having dialogue with authorities in the planning stages for major changes than left to a final attempt to stop changes when issue has been building over a long period. Especially as Arts Council England have clearly stated this is not one of their roles now. This was one of the most valuable and visible areas of work carried out by the Museum, Library and Archives Council.

21. Should be based on a clear understanding of the library’s role and impact on a range of outcomes and services not just looking at libraries as isolated services.

22. Should lead to advocacy and promotion of the contributions libraries make to the outcomes required by other departments as a result of being “efficient and effective”.

23. Is still required as the range and quality of library services across the country is extremely variable leading to a postcode lottery.

24. Is made more difficult without any kind of standards or clear expectations against which to judge what a quality library service is.

January 2012

Prepared 5th November 2012