Libraries Deliver: the Final Report of the Libraries Taskforce

  • By Jamie Saddler

 

The Libraries Taskforce has published the final version of Libraries Deliver: An Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016-21. The document outlines a series of measures to provide support, guidance, funding and policy changes to support libraries. This briefing provides an overview of Libraries Deliver and the accompanying announcements, including a £4 million innovation fund.

Overview

The Libraries Taskforce, supported by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Local Government Association (LGA), was set up in March 2015 in response to a recommendation in William Sieghart’s Independent Library Report for England, which called for a national strategy to secure the future of public libraries. 

The taskforce, which is jointly accountable to ministers and LGA members, is comprised of representatives from local government, Arts Council England (ACE), the BBC, British Library, the Society of Chief Librarians and Public Health England, and is designed to support sectorled transformation of public libraries.

A draft of its ambition document was published in March 2016, with a consultation running until 3 June. A final version of the document was published on 1 December 2016. 

Libraries Deliver calls on local authorities to consider how they can best use libraries when delivering public services and make use of the buildings, staff and services to think innovatively to help increase reading literacy and digital access in communities. 

Libraries Deliver encourages local authorities to use library buildings to provide access to a range of public services, such as employment, health and learning opportunities to ensure that libraries have a sustainable future. In addition, the document also highlights a new £4 million “Opportunities for Everyone Innovation Fund” to deliver new initiatives for disadvantaged communities across the country as well as an action plan for how the Libraries Taskforce will support local authorities.

Analysis

The Vision for Public Library Services in England
Libraries Deliver articulates a clear vision of what library services in England should look like, setting out an ambition for everyone in England to choose to use libraries because they see clear benefits and positive outcomes for doing so. Part of this is ensuring that everyone understands what library services offer and how they can make the most of what’s available to them, as well as being introduced to new ideas and opportunities through libraries, receive trusted guidance and build skills.

To achieve these ambitions, Libraries Deliver sets out seven outputs that library services contribute to that are critical to the individuals and communities in their areas:

  • cultural and creative enrichment
  • increased reading and literacy
  • improved digital access and literacy
  • helping everyone achieve their full potential
  • healthier and happier lives
  • greater prosperity;
  • stronger, more resilient communities.

Libraries Deliver also encourages councils to develop library services using a set of seven common design principles, to ensure the services:

  • Meet legal requirements;
  • Are shaped by local needs;
  • Focus on public benefit and deliver a high-quality user experience;
  • Make decisions informed by evidence, building on success;
  • Support delivery of consistent England-wide core offers;
  • Promote partnership working, innovation and enterprise;
  • Use public funds effectively and efficiently.

New Models for Service Delivery
Libraries Deliver highlights a range of different delivery models already being used across England. The Taskforce will continue to provide toolkits and research, while DCMS will also provide dedicated support for library services to explore, and if appropriate, spin out into a public service mutual model1. This will build on the experience of trailblazing library services and previous government support programmes.

Longer term, DCMS will discuss with the sector the benefits of establishing a more permanent support body at national level for public service mutuals across all sectors to assist shifts to new ways of working.

Funding
Local authorities have traditionally been the primary funding source for public libraries, but libraries increasingly need to diversify their funding. Building on the £2.6 million WiFi in Libraries Programme, DCMS and the Taskforce are setting up a £4 million “Libraries: Opportunities for Everyone” fund to pilot innovative activities in public libraries. The fund, to be managed by ACE, will finance new projects such as literacy schemes, improving access to technology or increasing the number of children visiting libraries. The Government is encouraging libraries to work with partners on joint bids and show match-funding as part of the application.

The government will also pilot new ways for libraries to generate income from national government initiatives. The Ministry of Justice has already established commuter hubs in some London libraries and is looking to extend these to more areas2. From January 2017, the government will also explore
ways that libraries can be used in relation to the National Citizen Service programme, providing venues for them to work within and supporting young people to participate.

Benchmarking
To support libraries in developing and maintaining a culture of continuous improvement, the taskforce will establish a sector-led benchmarking framework that councils can choose to use to support self-assessment, planning and improvement.
 

Data Sharing
In an effort to improve the provision and sharing of data, the taskforce will publish a basic dataset showing the number of static libraries in England and the models under which they operate. They will also consult with the sector on new and better ways of gathering and using libraries data and identify where research is needed to provide evidence for the impact library services have on individuals and communities, commissioning it on an England-wide basis where appropriate.
 

Stronger Coordination and Partnership Working
The taskforce will continue to investigate new approaches to procurement and work with suppliers to identify innovative approaches to providing library services. They will explore whether and how libraries’ digital presence could be improved through a single national digital platform that all library services could use and tailor to their needs. The taskforce will also support DCMS and the book industry to identify and implement ways to remunerate authors for remote e-lending and identify further ways to add value and share good practice.

Developing the Library Workforce
The Taskforce has announced that they will produce a Public Library Skills Strategy to equip people working in libraries to successfully deliver on the seven outcomes. The strategy will cover leadership at every level of the workforce, customer service and continuing professional development and training for library staff. The strategy will also look to broaden and deepen skills in areas like marketing, data analysis, commercial, digital and how to harness the commitment and expertise of volunteers.
 

Making the Case for Libraries
The taskforce believes there is a pressing need to refresh the image of public libraries and raise awareness of the wide range of services libraries provide and the benefits they bring, with both the public and decision-makers. They plan to do this by transforming public awareness of what libraries do, creating positive but realistic views of the library “brand”, highlighting how libraries can help achieve the objectives of central and local government and other partners and urging all public sector commissioners to think “libraries first” whenever they need to deliver a service direct to communities.

Commentary

Public libraries are highly valued and, despite significant financial pressures, London boroughs have continued to invest in them, spending £164 million in 2015/16 on library services. However, this still represents a real terms cut in spending of 19 per cent since 2010, with further reductions likely by 2020.
Many boroughs have been pioneering innovative approaches to deliver joined-up services, or have worked collaboratively to deliver library services more efficiently. The London Libraries Consortium, for example, delivers cost effective and efficient services by sharing computer technology across its 18 member boroughs. The boroughs benefit from shared procurement, library management systems and transport, as well as shared training.

A number of boroughs in London, including Croydon, Ealing, Harrow, Hounslow and Wandsworth, have contracted out the management of their libraries to not-for-profit trusts to deliver efficiency savings. Co-location has also proved effective in London in bringing libraries, employment services and benefits teams together to help residents search for work, improve digital literacy and deal with online benefits claims.

The taskforce’s proposals aim to build on this local innovation by providing a framework of national support and offer a clear vision for the future of public libraries. Libraries are increasingly having to diversify their funding base in order to survive, so the promise of the £4 million “Libraries: Opportunity for Everyone” fund is welcome and will allow boroughs to build on the pioneering work that many have already done.

Also significant is the commitment to pilot various ways for libraries to generate income from national government initiatives, which is a clear way for national policy to have a positive effect non securing the future of local library services without intruding on local decision-making.

The decision to recognise the skills and development needs of volunteers as well as paid staff in the skills strategy is an important step forward. However, given the imminent introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, it is disappointing not to see a specific reference to how library services can best take advantage of the opportunities it offers.

It is encouraging to see consistent recognition that any national initiatives should supplement the local offer, not supersede it, allowing local decision-making and innovation to take place. The emphasis on communicating the role and importance of libraries to both the general public and decision-makers is also vital and the proposals around improving data collection and sharing will be crucial in making this case effectively.

Endnotes

1Public service mutuals are organisations that have left the public sector but continue delivering public services. Employee control plays a significant role in their operation.

2Commuter hubs provide bookable desks for staff to work at, closer to where they live, offering the facilities staff expect in their main office. The Ministry of Justice has been gradually expanding this network over the last year and now have over 200 desk settings in 16 locations across London and the South East

Jamie Saddler, Policy and Projects Officer