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DCMS receives independent review of libraries

Ella Creamer, Review finds libraries in England suffer ‘lack of recognition’ from government, The Guardian, 19 January 2024

Proposals include the creation of a libraries minister and a high-profile libraries laureate to be the sector’s public champion.

‘Shared challenges’ … the British Library. Photograph: Daniel Leal/AFP/Getty Images.

An independent review of libraries in England has found a “lack of recognition” across government and a “lack of awareness” among the general public of what libraries have to offer.

The review proposes the creation of a libraries minister, the establishment of a libraries laureate and a branding campaign to raise awareness of the role of libraries, among other recommendations.

The review was commissioned last September for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) minister Stephen Parkinson. It was conducted by Baroness Sanderson, who visited libraries across England, consulted volunteers and organisations connected to libraries, and looked at international examples as part of the review.

One key proposal calls for the British Library to take on a convening role with the aim of starting “a valuable central conversation” about libraries that could “potentially lead to some interesting opportunities and collaborations”.

Liz Jolly, chief librarian of the British Library, welcomed the review. “We look forward to working with DCMS and partners across the sector on the shared challenges and opportunities identified by Baroness Sanderson,” she added.

The review also suggests that a national data hub be created in order to show the impact of libraries on communities, and calls for the possibility of automatically enrolling children in library memberships to be explored.

Isobel Hunter, the chief executiver of Libraries Connected – a charity representing public library services – who was involved in roundtable discussions as part of the review – particularly welcomed the recommendations for a national data hub, automatic enrolment for children and the creation of a libraries minister.

However, the “underlying issue for the sector”, Hunter said, is “under-investment in the public library network, the result of successive cuts to council budgets, inflation and rising demand for other statutory services such as social care.

“For libraries to truly prosper and fulfil the potential outlined in Baroness Sanderson’s review, councils need a fairer, long-term funding solution,” Hunter added. “Without this, it is difficult to see how these recommendations can be fully implemented and resourced.”

Other key recommendations proposed in the report are to strengthen the library volunteer network and to change the timing of Libraries Week – an annual showcase of what libraries have to offer – so that it falls within the parliamentary term.

The review also calls for the appointment of a libraries laureate with a “high-profile” and “distinct” voice. “Someone who the media could automatically turn to and who could advocate on behalf of libraries,” it adds. The proposal is supported by current children’s laureate Joseph Coelho.

“I struggled with my literacy and it was the library that helped me overcome that,” said the author. “What if I hadn’t gone to the library? I was the first in my family to go to university but I think I would have slipped out of the system if it wasn’t for the library. Libraries changed my life. I wouldn’t be a writer now without them. That’s why I’m calling for a library laureate.”

The findings will inform a new government strategy to be developed by the DCMS, due to be published this year.