Strategies for the future of public libraries
Nick Poole, Chief Executive, CILIP
CILIP Wales Conference 2016
Public libraries aren’t dying – they’re changing (again)
Times like these calls for solidarity and empathy – personally and professionally.
This downturn in the fortunes of public libraries is longer and deeper than
many of those that preceded it because it is the product of at least 3 waves of
change: technological change, social change and economic change.
This too shall pass...
“Approximate Statistical view of the Principal Public Libraries of Europe and the
United States of America” (Edwards,1849)
We’ve been here before (many times)...
Report from the Select Committee on Public Libraries;
together with Proceedings of the Committee, Minutes of
Evidence and Appendix (23.06.1849)
• A National Strategy for public libraries
• Public use of University Libraries
• Public Access to the British (Museum) Library
• Responsibilities of Local Councils
• A ha’penny tax to fund & furnish buildings
• Crowd/private funding for book stock (!)
Report of the Parliamentary debate:
• “it was argued that...the rate paying middle and
upper classes would be paying for a service that
would be mainly used by the working classes.
One argued that the "people have too much
knowledge already: it was much easier to
manage them twenty years ago; the more
education people get the more difficult they are
“To work for the benefit of the public to promote education and knowledge
through the establishment and development of libraries and information
services and to advance information science (being the science and practice of
the collection, collation, evaluation and organised dissemination of
• Unite all persons engaged or interested in information science
• Promote improvement of knowledge, skills, position and qualifications
• Promote study and research in librarianship and information science
• Promote adequate & appropriate provision of library services
• Scrutinise legislation affecting the provision of library and information services
by GE 2020
A society built
We want every single last member of society to have the opportunity to learn,
to read, to discover and to get on in life. We want them to live in an equal,
democratic and prosperous society.
A key way of achieving this is to secure a modern, sustainable, universal public
library service that meets the needs of local communities.
That includes literacy, opportunities for creativity, safe welcoming places,
learning, digital inclusion, business support or promoting health and
wellbeing, alongside a whole raft of other new & exotic functions...
What do we want?
Strategies for the future of public libraries..
The question is less strategic than tactical – it’s less about what
public libraries will look like in future and more about how we
organise ourselves to get there faster & stop losing services and
jobs in the process...
Less of this...
Library leaders & sector bodies
More of this... Communities
Clear statutory duties (Local & National)Evidence-based policy, planning and investment
Clear statutory duties (Local & National)Clear outcomes-based quality standards
Transparent and accountable monitoring regime
Coordinated marketing, promotion & high-profile partnership
Inclusive professional development, training & qualifications
Which future do we want?
Single services? Fragmentation? Partnership?
single library services (eg. for
England) delivering against
Fully-devolved, based on 2-
3,000 ‘independent service
points’ delivering integrated
services for the Local Authority
partnership to deliver a joined-
up library service which benefits
from UK-wide brand, national
governance/leadership (in each
Nation) & localised delivery
Our tactics have to yield money, but whose money? Our strategy is extremely
• A redistribution or ring-fence of existing spend by Local Authorities?
• UK Government intervention in Local Authority spend?
• Relaxing of Austerity policy in relation to centrally-distributed funds?
• Release of additional ring-fenced money from the Exchequer?
• Distribution of Treasury money via project funders?
UK Government will not intervene in Local Authority expenditure in this
Parliament so our best tactics are to convince Councils to maintain
investment, encourage Government to increase the availability of project
funds & support the overall effort to ease austerity
Which comes first?
Governance & leadership
CILIP plays an active role on behalf of our profession in the Leadership for
Libraries Taskforce, even where this isn’t always easy.
There are no easy solutions, but there are some clear points to navigate by:
• We need professional librarians to deliver professional services
• We need to support and promote positive change
• We need to ensure that we retain the connection to professional ethics
• We need to be inclusive while promoting the value & status of professional librarians
Can we open up insight into the health
and priorities of the sector by aggregating
data on usage, trends and impact into an
Open Public Library Dataset to be shared
for creative & commercial re-use?
Can we learn from the insight and data of
library system vendors to gain a better
real-time understanding of what’s
Can we use contemporary approaches to data analysis and visualisation to help
all stakeholders get a better, evidence-based insight into the real strengths,
opportunities and challenges for public libraries?
Analyse and visualise data
The process we’re going through is a process of change, not an existential
threat. There will always be public libraries, there will always be an audience
who need what public libraries uniquely deliver.
In Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland, you’ve already made key decisions about
how you want to take control of that process of change. Hopefully in England,
this is what is happening through the ‘Ambition’. None of these futures are
certain, and we can have a positive impact on all of them.
This is not a decision about whether libraries are important, but of how they
will be funded, governed and developed in the future. We need to organise
ourselves tactically, effectively, positively and with unity of purpose to ensure
that those decisions are made by and with professional librarians.
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