Join the libraries conversation

On this blog are a series of guest-written articles intended to invite your comments, conversation and debate to inform Envisioning the library of the future. This is part of a larger Arts Council programme of research and consultation that will help us to shape what libraries will look like in the future. You can also join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #ACElibraries.

If you have any comments relating to current library issues, please direct them to your local authority rather than posting them here. Alternatively, there are other forums such as Voices for the Library and The Library Campaign that would welcome your views. Please note that the Arts Council does not endorse, and is not responsible for, the content of external sites.

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8 Responses to Join the libraries conversation

  1. Hazel Robinson says:

    While we envision the libraries of the future and the social ills they can help to address, libraries are being closed all around us. A better question might be, “How can we retain libraries so that they can exist into the future?” Having campaigned and failed to keep our smaller libraries in Dorset and, in the process, learned much more about how systems are organised, I believe this is what we should tackle. Please do not tell us to direct issues to our local authorities who don’t give a damn and have no vision. This is part of the problem. Where is the overall strategy, the cohesive organisation and the adherence to common goals which would actually bring us these magnificently-envisaged forces for good, our future libraries? The Arts Council could be that unifying voice….if it has the guts.

  2. Ian Anstice says:

    Thanks for the opportunity to discuss the future of public libraries. Libraries have been described as the “third space” for communities, providing vital books, information, rooms, internet access …. the list goes on too long for here … so they must have a future. The alternative is too horrible to contemplate.

    However, in the present they are threatened like never before. Libraries do have a future if we can convince Government and local councils that they do. We are currently in a “perfect storm” of threats to the public library service, the leading threat being historically severe cuts to their budgets, exacerbated by a passive Government response. For a list of what is happening in each authority, compiled almost daily from media reports see I would also recommend the Voices for the Libarry website at

  3. MartynAshe says:

    It just isn’t possible to separate the issue of library closures and changes to the way library services are being financed and delivered now from a consideration of how libraries will develop in the future. If the government and local authorities continue with their current policy there will be a different, much smaller, more impoverished and overstretched library service. Consequently the kind of service that will be possible will already have been shaped by current actions.

    Unlike Ian I don’t believe the government is being passive. It has a deliberately policy of allowing cuts and closures to be determined piecemeal at a local level, with a nod and a wink to the local axemen.

  4. Laura Swaffield says:

    I find it astonishing that you don’t want to know about ‘local issues’. You are thus cutting yourself off from the best possible source of information about (1) current problems and (2) what local people want from their library service. Libraries are local services. That is their essence. You won’t find many that don’t have ‘issues’ to deal with just now, thanks to huge funding cuts. Please take an interest in the real world.

  5. Alan Wylie says:

    We seem to have been ‘discussing’ the future of libraries for ever, the problem has never been the lack of discussion and ideas it’s been the total lack of leadership and poor policy and decision making! Whilst we discuss, the public library system is being fragmented, divested and ‘hollowed out’, thousands of library workers have lost their jobs and thousands off library users have lost their libraries or have been offerred a service that is second or third best! The last, and best, piece of proper research undertaken was the MLA report “What do the public want from libraries?”, although not perfect it offered a foundation from which too build from! Why are we once again trying to re-invent the wheel?There really isn’t time!

  6. Desmond Clarke says:

    This is the fourth national consultation or “conversation” about public libraries undertaken by the DCMS and the strategic agencies in just five years! The first was the consultation in 2007 entitled Blueprint for Excellence followed the next year by the two year Library Modernisation Review. Then, in 2010 we had the Future Libraries Programme. We have also been asked to make submissions to two Parliamentary Select Committee Inquiries and also to the All Party Parliamentary Library Group. There have also been several seminars attended by ministers and senior officials. What has gone wrong and why do we need another “conversation”?
    The public library service urgently needs political and professional leadership and a vision for public libraries in the 21st Century which is widely understood and supported by Government, the profession and local politicians. Both the present Minister, Ed Vaizey and the All Party Library Group, which complained about the “woeful lack of leadership” in the sector, have proposed some form of Library Development Agency to fill the leadership void.
    Such a body would provide the strategic leadership and help and support the 151 library authorities to deliver an “improving”, “comprehensive and efficient” service as stated in the Act. It would encourage authorities to streamline services, innovate and optimise operational efficiencies. It would also provide effective advocacy to ensure that every authority provides an adequate service to its diverse communities. We should also be seeking to deliver a national ebook lending service aviailable to everyone whatever their post code.
    The last Select Committee, five years ago, described public libraries as a “service in distress” and we will shortly receive another Select Committee report. What we need are people with the vision, the expertise and the commitment to rebuild the public library service to the benefit of the millions of people who rely upon it.
    Libraries are an essential public service that supports literacy, education, reading and the acquisition of information and knowledge. Those who need and rely upon the service have in many authorities been badly let down by government, the strategic agencies and the SCL. The time has come to stop the “conversations” and start addressing the issues highlighted by the several consultancy studies. We urgently need strategic leadership, effective advocacy and a proper action plan.

  7. Amanda J Field says:

    It’s just not realistic to talk about a vision for the future that excludes ‘current issues’. The ‘current issue’ is that libraries are being closed all over the country and their real-estate sold off. Even those not being closed are having their book-stocks decimated, their opening hours cut, their knowledgeable staff fired, their quiet spaces for study eliminated, and their inefficient business practices allowed to continue unchallenged. These are decisions made by local authorities whose members neither understand nor use libraries. So I fear that in asking for a vision of the future for libraries, the Arts Council are inhabiting something of an ivory tower. Also, that awful word ‘conversation’ smacks to me of ‘faux democracy’. We don’t want a ‘conversation’ or another ‘report’ – we want some central leadership and we want it now before there is no library service left at all.

  8. tonifranck says:

    DEMOCRACY: There is a ‘digital divide’; we all need free, unfettered access to the internet to be informed citizens.
    HERITAGE: Small libraries are the archive for small communities’ local history, the only place where their story is held.
    LITERACY + LEARNING: If decision-makers do not have the time to know library services, they cannot understand the place of the library in the community.

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