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All-Party Parliamentary Group on Libraries, Literacy and Information Management Report: a review

APPG report more ppl shotLast week, the All-Party Parliamentary Group launched their new report: an inquiry into the governance and leadership of the public library service in England. On the basis of the progression we have seen with the DCMS modernisation review, I had little expectation of this report providing any real insight or vision. As I worked my way through the report, I found myself scribbling and highlighting away, only to find the very thought I had just noted to be clarified in the upcoming paragraph. So I was pleasantly surprised to say the least, as I found the report to consider more perspectives than I anticipated.

It would have been too easy for the scope of the report to be wide and vague, which no doubt would have provided a foggy vision if any. So it was good to see that the focus of this report is specifically on the effectiveness of arrangements for the governance and leadership of public library services. The six lines of enquiry were very appropriate in light of the current situation. They were:

1)      What are the strengths and weaknesses of the present system for the governance and leadership of the public library service in England?

2)      Should local communities have a greater say in decisions about the public library service?

3)      Should central government do more to superintend the public library service?

4)      Are local authorities the best agency to provide library services?

5)      What are the governance and leadership roles of the Advisory Council on Libraries (ACL), the Museums, Libraries and Archives (MLA) and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)?

6)      What changes (if any) are required to improve and strengthen governance and leadership?

Perhaps a closer look into the role of technology and innovation may have been a potential area for inquiry, though this may be something which stems from point six. As the report began to take a closer look at the strengths and weaknesses of the public library service, they acknowledged that:

“The submissions presented a bleak national picture with more weaknesses than strengths being identified.”

Amongst some of the more legitimate and agreeable points raised, there were a few points which led me to frown as I read. For example, the group believes the library service is diverse and innovative, listing it as one of its strengths. But is this really the case? Would this report really be necessary if they were? A couple of contradictions arose too, for example, listing staff to be helpful and experts at one point and then ill equipped and unhelpful at another.

In summary, the key recommendations were to develop one lead voice for libraries through the establishment of a single Library Development Agency for England (LDAE). A reassuring recognition, as a vision leading the library service could not be any more crucial than it is today. The current role and purpose of the many national agencies has brought confusion to the service, lacking a prominent player leading the way. The report rightly recognises the library sector has lost its way, and is sadly regarded to be of low value by decision makers.

Whist the LDAE is in the making (I assume answers around who, when and how are yet to come) we can expect a mid-term communications strategy and training and development programmes for public library personnel to improve management and leadership skills, from the MLA. Interesting, as the report recognised the MLA’s poor record with libraries in the past, and some contributors felt regret around the recent changes to its regional structures. The formation of LDAE would result in revision to the role, function and allocated funding of the MLA, making them a surprising/uncertain candidate to lead the way on the mid-term plans.

Overall, I was pleased to see the group recognise dramatic action is required and quickly. Yet it could be argued that recognising the problem is the easy part, finding and implementing the solution is the real challenge.

Image copyright of APPG. Publisher, CILIP.

Full report available to download from CILIP.

MLA Setting Course For The Next Five Years

 MLAlogoLast week England’s Museums Libraries and Archives Council launched  an Action Plan designed to set the course for Libraries over the next five years. 

The Action Plan (PDF 70KB) from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council is the result of extensive consultation and engagement with stakeholders and sets out an agenda for change for public libraries in England with the aspiration of making every public library a great public library.

From the slim report, subtitled ‘towards 2013‘:

This Action Plan reflects the outcome of extensive consultation and engagement with stakeholders. MLA will work in partnership to deliver this ambitious agenda over the next five years.

The report doesn’t go in to detail about the extensive consultation, or the stakeholders, but after some reflection on  ‘WHAT DOES ‘GOOD’ LOOK LIKE?’, it lays out how: In 2008/9, MLA, in consultation with DCMS, ACL, SCL, LGA and others, will make a start on four key challenges.

  • Challenge one: research and evidence
  • Challenge two: best practice
  • Challenge three: innovation
  • Challenge four: digital change

Each of these four challenges have listed a set of actions under the ‘MLA will‘ heading.  It is clear from the initial wording of these actions (Invest in impact research – Analyse – Identify and promote – Promote – Actively promote – Consult – Highlight – Identify – Encourage – Examine – Maintain support – Make an effective case – Manage – Promote – Advance)  that MLA are planning to be central to the encouragement of libraries to improve the service they deliver.

I read the report with interest, but it left me with a feeling that the MLA  are going to have a difficult job on their hands.  Not so much in doing that encouraging, promoting, consulting, examining and advancing, but in how they are going to measure the effect of it all.  In five years time, how will they know that they have succeeded?  Perhaps more importantly how, in one or two years time, will they know that they are on target to succeed?

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