Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL)

1. Summary Response

A comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century should

1. Be designed to meet the needs of local communities and wherever possible involve those communities in their planning and delivery.

2. Be a professionally delivered service.

3. Be a key delivery mechanism for local solutions to the problems faced by disadvantaged communities, in partnership with other providers.

4. Not overlook the importance of the traditional elements of the service … quality bookstock, current and historical information sources; expert staff to support customers; and safe and neutral community space (most people, including non-users, appreciate the availability of a public space which is freely available when more and more public space has become privatized or chargeable).

5. Be led nationally and locally.

6. Do all this efficiently by ensuring that the best possible services are available at a cost that is acceptable to local taxpayers.

But there is a need to clearly define what “Comprehensive and Efficient” means in the 21st century (for example, the public library service’s digital offer which has to include digital content which the customer can access on site, or remotely via their own devices),

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

1. We believe that the front loading of expenditure reductions creates greater risk of breaches of the Act.

2. We also believe that library services should only be subject to proportionate cuts, but would suggest that the pressure on local authorities can make this very difficult to achieve. It would be helpful if the Secretary of State could make this point publicly.

The impact library closures have on local communities

1. We believe that the impact of closures can be very significant and damaging. But at the same time, closures can also be the result of robust and forward thinking and service planning.

2. The heaviest impact is likely to be felt by those members of the local community who are least able to fend for themselves: the excluded, and those least likely to cope; the young; the elderly; and the unwaged. They are least able to travel to a library further away or purchase what they would have previously borrowed.

3. There needs to be a greater awareness of the implications of other reductions in spending. Where buildings are not closed, cuts to services, book funds, opening hours, building maintenance and staffing can be equally significant to local communities.

The effectiveness of the Secretary of State’s Powers of Intervention under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964

1. The intervention powers of the Secretary of State under Section 10 of the Public Libraries and Museums Act (1964) are technically adequate for the leadership and planning required at national level, but in our opinion are not clearly and consistently exercised or promoted.

2. There needs to be a more measurable/objective basis to allow the Secretary of State to judge when intervention is appropriate. The removal of Public Library Standards, the reduction in importance of CIPFA returns, and the absence of other performance measures must surely make it difficult to decide when to intervene?

3. The outcomes of recent court cases and the judges’ views that their powers of judicial review are more limited given the Secretary of State’s duty of superintending the service, only highlight the ultimate responsibility of the Secretary of State to act, and to provide the necessary national leadership.

4. The Government has a key role in ensuring public sector services are accessible and effective. SCL would welcome the opportunity to give further evidence to the Committee to support the recommendations that we make in this submission.

2. Detailed Response

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

SCL believes that a comprehensive and efficient library service in the 21st century will:

1. Meet the needs of local communities by providing opportunities for learning; traditional and digital literacy development; access to information and knowledge; safe and quality learning and community space; and support for families and disadvantaged communities. Libraries must be at the forefront of digital innovation in the creation and delivery of services, mobile communications and e- content, becoming an integral part of a networked society, promoting the information literacy and digital skills necessary for full and equal participation in contemporary life. Linking with national campaigns like Race Online 2012, libraries are working hard to help their communities get online. Martha Lane Fox, UK Digital Champion, stated in January 2011 that “councils can bring about a digital future for all … in this challenging budgetary time, being online is one clear way of lowering costs”. Public libraries, and the People’s Network, are fundamental to the delivery of this ambition.

Public libraries help to create literate and articulate individuals and communities that can better support themselves.

2. Be a professionally delivered service, using the skills, experience and networks of expert library staff to shape services to the needs of local communities, partners and business, engaging them effectively in service development, and ensuring safe and impartial access to services. Library staff are trained in these skills and work within a unique professional code of practice and ethical values. They bring expertise in reading (actively supporting the development of a fluency of reading) and learning—especially in terms of independent learning and personal development. Libraries provide an extensive range of books for children in the early years; they also run baby and toddler rhyme times and music times, all of which contribute to the development of language and later to literacy.

3. Library staff are also skilled in specialist information management—for example business information, support for SMEs. They also support residents in navigating the mass of data and online information that is increasingly used for decision making in daily life.

4. Be a key delivery mechanism to respond to the real difficulties faced by disadvantaged communities in partnership with other local providers. By helping to bridge the “digital divide” libraries can support people to access and understand the wealth of resources available in the Information Age. In partnership with other agencies and services libraries can help to combat poverty and disadvantage, support social mobility and fairness, enable employability and economic self-sufficiency.

5. Be delivered and developed alongside close and regular customer and community engagement and involvement, and with effective partnership relationships both locally and nationally.

6. Do all this efficiently by achieving economies of scale through partnership consortium, collaboration and shared services, and ensuring that the best possible services are available at the best possible cost for local taxpayers.

7. Be led nationally and locally. The Library Service is a national service delivered locally. It needs to have a national vision in terms of its delivery potential and its contribution to local quality of life. It also needs national focus on the negotiation, development and delivery of electronic resources, membership promotion and the marketing of nationally-led services. This national leadership is non existent at present.

8. But we strongly believe that there is also a need to provide local leadership for locally tailored services, designed for community support. These include cultural opportunities; reading development and promotion; specialist services such as children’s work; business and employment support; music and local studies. For example, users of successful Libraries’ Job Clubs have reported that their location in public libraries makes them easier (less intimidating) to access, and provides an immediate link with information and technical resources to help in the search for employment.

9. SCL recommends that the Secretary of State (with the Arts Council) set out a contemporary vision for the 21st Century Public Library Service (developed in consultation with local authorities and ideally with local communities) defining what comprehensive, efficient and accessible means and forming a basis for local planning and delivery.

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

1. The high level of public interest and outcry from local communities clearly reflects a view that the closures of libraries and reduction of services are not compatible with user views of comprehensive and efficient services.

2. We believe that the front loading of expenditure reductions creates greater risk of breaches of the Act. By not allowing sufficient time to reconfigure services effectively, there are increased risks of hasty closures and the loss of comprehensive library provision, particularly in those areas of the country where the full contribution of the library service is not recognised/acknowledged.

3. Reductions in services and staffing threaten many of the partnership programmes that allow libraries to make a significantly wider contribution (for example the Bookstart service; traditional and digital literacy programmes), addressing social problems in disadvantaged communities.

4. Closures, reductions in opening hours and redundancies can only be justified within the context of a properly developed and endorsed local library strategy. Identifying efficiencies that do not impact on services is not a short term task.

5. On average library services consume less than 2% of local authority budgets, draw more users than any other service of choice, but are facing significantly high levels of cuts. Current research suggests that levels of cuts are significant across library services. The findings of the “tough times” report published by the Audit Commission in November 2011 looked at how councils were coping with their budget reductions and found that the overall reduction in authorities’ spending was 6.5% but spending on culture had been cut by 13%.

6. Recent Judicial Reviews support the findings of the Charteris Report that there should be a proper needs analysis informing the nature of the local library service before any services are reduced. The Charteris Inquiry also found that Wirral Borough Council would fail in its duties primarily because it had not addressed the needs of disadvantaged groups, including older and disabled people. The importance of equality considerations have been reinforced by the High Court judgment in the case brought against Gloucestershire and Somerset County Councils where they were found in breach of their statutory equality duties.

7. We are concerned that moves to hand over the exclusive control of libraries to local community groups could undermine the role of libraries in addressing equal opportunities. The report Future Libraries: change options and how to get there published by the MLA and LGA in August 2011 cast doubt about the community governance model, asking how it reflects that it is a statutory duty of a council to provide a library service. How will a council guard against service failure or if local people no longer want to run their library?

8. Any proposed changes to libraries should be articulated in a strategy. The Secretary of State has the power to act, but appears to be reluctant to do so. Furthermore, England is now the only part of the United Kingdom without a national benchmark or assessment framework for its public library service, unlike the other home countries.

The impact library closures have on local communities

1. We believe that the impact of some closures and the potential reductions in levels of service and staffing could be significant and damaging.

2. The heaviest impact is likely to be felt by those members of the local community who are least able to fend for themselves; the excluded, the young, the elderly and the unwaged. They are least able to travel to a library further away or purchase what they would have previously borrowed.

3. Where buildings are not closed, cuts to service budgets (including book funds), opening hours, building maintenance and staffing are equally significant. As the cuts impact on staffing, services and partnerships, these are potentially every bit as damaging as the closure of a building. Local authorities need to be able to demonstrate that services can still be comprehensive and efficient with fewer staff, hours and support, even if the number of library buildings is not reduced.

4. Many local communities rely on libraries as they do other community services such as schools or hospitals, and see the cuts to libraries as equally serious. Many local communities have already demonstrated their strength of feeling but not all have the political leadership and resources available to do this. The intense commitment and activity of library pressure groups illustrate this passion for the local presence of the library. Those in disadvantaged communities may be even more affected by the proposed closures but less able to articulate the impact of this or to organise campaigns. The Secretary of State should be acting for them.

5. SCL recommends that the Secretary of State asks the Arts Council as a matter of urgency to review research on the social impact and public value of public libraries, commissioning new research as appropriate, and urges caution in further closures until the impact of these upon communities is clearer.

The effectiveness of the Secretary of State’s Powers of Intervention under the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964

1. SCL believes that, if properly exercised, the intervention powers of the Secretary of State under Section 10 of the Public Libraries and Museums Act (1964) are adequate for the leadership and planning required at national level. Section 1 allows for the collection of information or inspection of a public library authority and Section 10 for an Inquiry where an authority may be in default of its obligations and an order specifying improvements required following an Inquiry. Ultimately the Secretary of State has powers to take over the running of a service. What is not clear, however (with the closure of the MLA, and the earlier removal of professional advisory capacity from DCMS) is who advises the Secretary of State on the need to intervene, and what evidence is used to inform such advice? Furthermore, the removal of Public Library Standards, the reduction in importance of CIPFA returns, and the absence of other performance measures must surely make it difficult to decide when to intervene?

2. The outcomes of recent court cases and the judges’ view that their powers of judicial review are more limited given the Secretary of State’s duty of superintending the service, only highlight the ultimate responsibility of the Secretary of State to act.

3. We believe that it is now vital that the Secretary of State has a new framework within which the performance of public library authorities in meeting their obligations under the 1964 Act can be assessed. It should be accompanied by a renewed vision for the public library service in England, with strong national leadership to help the public library network address the many challenges ahead. The Arts Council with its new library responsibilities should be charged with helping the Secretary of State to develop this.

4. SCL recommends the Secretary of State robustly uses the available powers of intervention where there has been clear evidence of a potential breach of the 1964 Act.

January 2012

Prepared 5th November 2012