New strategy includes £4 million innovation fund and need for Single Library Digital Presence
England’s libraries must provide “high quality 24/7 online access” within five years to be judged a success, a new Government strategy says.
Ministers have said the vital local council service has “fallen behind” other cultural assets such as museums and galleries and must be brought up to standard.
In particular, the strategy criticises library service websites for being merely “transactional” – for example, allowing local people to reserve a book they wish to obtain.
Instead, councils should be designing websites that will “attract people to explore, discover and engage with library activities and assets online”.
The document, entitled Libraries Deliver: Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016-2021, sets out what “success in 2021 will look like”.
The benchmarks include improved levels of digital literacy and people being “supported to complete online activities of their choice, through all library services providing internet access, training and support”.
A further aim is for “high quality 24/7 online access, seamlessly integrated with physical aspects of public library services, available through a Single Library Digital Presence (SLDP)”.
The SLDP is a Government initiative to support councils to “provide a seamless transition between physical and digital collections, including e-books and e-magazines”.
Ministers acknowledge that remote e-lending is not currently covered by Public Lending Right - the right of authors to receive payment for the loans. They have set up a taskforce with the book industry to “identify and implement ways to remunerate authors for remote e-lending”.
The new strategy involves the provision of a £4 million innovation fund for projects that help disadvantaged communities, to be administered by Arts Council England. It will be available until March 2018.
However, this follows many bleak years for library services, which have been hit hard by massive local council cuts since the Coalition came to power in 2010.
About one in eight council-run libraries has closed or been transferred out of the public sector – despite an obligation on councils to provide "comprehensive and efficient" services.
The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (Cilip) said the strategy went "part way" to securing a positive future for libraries,
Cilip's chief executive, Nick Poole, said: “We face a stark choice. We can either continue with severe cuts and closures or secure a positive future for people, communities and businesses that benefit from England's network of public libraries.”
Rob Wilson, the libraries minister, insisted they were still hugely popular, valuable community assets – and could succeed if they changed.
“This strategy provides a blueprint for how libraries can be better utilised, to make them more resilient while still delivering vital public services to the communities that need them,” he said.
Image from Loughborough University, CC BY 2.0 through flickr