English public libraries; needing new leadership ?

A report on governance and leadership in the English public library service has been published, following an enquiry by the grandly-named All-Party Parliamentary Group on Libraries, Literacy and Information Management. Cynics have pointed out that this group is not quite the impartial assembly of the great and the good that its title might suggest; it is sponsored and supported by CILIP, who largely funded the inquiry which led to this report. Nonetheless, having five MPs and one Lord taking an intelligent interest in library matters is something of a novelty. The Group was chaired initially by Labour MPs Lyn Brown, initially, and Lynda Waltho, latterly.

Lyn Brown MP
Lyn Brown MP

Among fourteen recommendations in the report, arguably the most address the woeful lack of coherent leadership of the service from the top. One recommendation is that a single government department should be responsible for English public libraries, and should provide funding for them. This should be supported by a new Library Development Agency for England. It is also recommended that there should be a clear definition of what the current legal requirement to provide a “comprehensive and efficient service” actually means, and hence what level of service users are entitled to expect.
Lynda Waltho MP
Lynda Waltho MP

Given the lack of official clout of the Group, and especially in view of the current uncertain political situation, it seems highly unlikely that these recommendations will be acted on, any time soon. Even so, the report is a useful reproach to those who have allowed the English library service to drift into its current rather sad state. Its provisions could help to avoid the kind of thing seen with the recent Wirral controversy.

The full report may be found here, and CILIP’s commentary here.

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