Members of the panel presenting the deputy minister with their review. From left: Prof. Hywel Roberts, library adviser; Clare Creaser, Loughborough University and Chair of the Expert Panel; Peter Gomer, Welsh Local Government Association representative; Ken Skates AM, Deputy Minister for Culture and Sport; Steve Davies, Cardiff University.
“Public libraries will continue to play a vital role in the ongoing delivery of local and national priorities such as social inclusion, lifelong learning, literacy, digital inclusion, health and wellbeing and community cohesion.” (Paragraph 198)
An independent expert panel, appointed by the previous minister responsible for libraries in Wales, has just published its review of Welsh public libraries today (Wed 22nd October 2014). The report is available online in English and Welsh and the Welsh Government press release is available on its website (includes quotes from the deputy minister). The press release says: “Speaking at the WLGA Library Seminar, organised in partnership with the Welsh Government, the Deputy Minister said the current management model for public libraries across Wales was not sustainable.”
The report lists 11 recommendations, and it has also taken into account the recommendations and findings from the National Assembly for Wales’ CELG committee report on public libraries which was published in late July 2014 (paragraphs 33-37). This is relevant to other libraries as CELG committee recommendation 1 is for an annual report, and the panel’s recommendation is for this to be a cross-library report (not just public libraries) as the Welsh library strategy is cross-sector.
The expert review’s report covers the current provision of public libraries in Wales and Welsh Government library policy, changes (proposed and actual) from 2014 onwards to local authority library services, and a chapter on future models of service delivery. There are lots of nuggets in the report and it considers a wide range of issues including hot topics of volunteers, the library workforce, income generation, community libraries, and legislation.
The foreword notes that whilst there is “broad agreement on provision, set out in the Fifth Framework of Welsh Public Library Standards” there remains the question of “how can this best be delivered to maintain the quality and relevance of the service for the people of Wales?” And, to achieve this by focusing on the “benefits for the user”, the statutory nature of the service, and, the current and future economic climate.
In the executive summary, paragraph five says “The review reaffirmed the importance of the public library service and that it will continue to make a positive impact to the life of individuals and their communities in the future. Libraries will play a vital role in the ongoing delivery of local and national priorities such as social inclusion, lifelong learning, literacy, digital inclusion, health and wellbeing and community cohesion.”
One of the key messages I read in the report is one of partnership, collaboration and joint working. Here in Wales we’ve always got on well together and hopefully the future for Welsh public libraries will see this continuing for the benefit of library users.
The recommendations for the deputy minister for libraries in Wales are a mix of immediate and longer term proposals. The executive summary notes that they will be subject to further discussion and will be the basis of the next library strategy for Wales post 2016. So, whatever your views on the recommendations, let CyMAL know (through me or other means).
The 11 recommendations are divided into three main areas and are copied in full below:
I. The Welsh Government, Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) and local authorities should work with stakeholders to continue to develop good practice guidance which will assist local authorities and their public library services to consult on services. This should include training and promoting the effective use of the wealth of online resources available, including the National Principles of Public Engagement, Practitioners’ Manual for Public Engagement; Evaluation toolkit.
II. The Welsh Government, Welsh Local Government Association and local authorities should work with stakeholders to continue to develop good practice to assist local authorities to undertake Equality Impact Assessments. This will include training and promoting the use of the forthcoming Equality Impact Assessments Practice Hub being developed by the WLGA and NHS Centre for Equality and Human Rights among public library services.
III. Proposed changes to public library services should only be progressed following the production of costed options which should be appraised according to:
a) the identification of appropriate timescales;
b) the completion of required impact assessments;
c) the opportunities for collaborative working with neighbouring authorities or other delivery partners.
This recommendation should be applied with immediate effect.
IV. CyMAL should take immediate steps to collect evidence and assess the impact of proposed changes to library service provision on the communities affected within the context of statutory requirements in Rhondda Cynon Taf CBC, Neath Port Talbot CBC and Blaenau Gwent CBC to inform future decisions by other local authorities. CyMAL should publish a report after an initial 3 month period of research and a full report after 12 months.
V. Every public library service should develop an evidence and outcomes based strategy to begin in 2015-16, outlining how the library service contributes to local, regional and national priorities, which is published on the library service’s website. This document should be used as a strategic planning tool and regularly revised and updated in accordance with existing corporate practice. The library service strategy should be supported by a delivery plan outlining how the strategy will be implemented, including a Results Based Accountability scorecard assessment. An example of best practice is Caerphilly CBC’s five year development plan which is based on their 10 year strategy.
VI. CyMAL should work with staff, employers, SCL Wales, CILIP Cymru and trade unions to develop a comprehensive five-year workforce development plan to start in 2015-16 for public libraries to meet future staffing needs. It is the Panel’s view that volunteers should be provided with tailored training as a discrete group to meet their specific needs.
VII. Local authorities should recognise and respond to the need for more urgent and greater emphasis on collaborative schemes in their future strategies for public library provision, especially between and among local authority departments, across local authority boundaries, and with other public sector libraries. The Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism should take into account, in deciding what constitutes a “comprehensive and efficient” service, the local authority’s record and commitment
in collaborative service delivery.
VIII. Community managed libraries (as outlined in para. 83) should not be considered as part of statutory library provision at the present time, subject to the findings of the research proposed in recommendation IV and IX. Data relating to libraries which are not part of statutory provision should not be included in returns under the Welsh Public Library Standards Framework.
IX. CyMAL should work with stakeholders to develop guidelines and appropriate documentation for partnership agreements setting out the minimum requirements which would enable a community supported library to be considered as part of an authority’s statutory provision. Relevant legal advice should be sourced as part of this process. The criteria for a community supported library to be included as part of the statutory provision should be developed by CyMAL by January 2015 for implementation from April 2015.
Future Models of Service Delivery
X. The Welsh Government should work with the WLGA and local authorities to progress the following strategic actions:
a) promote greater collaboration on a more extensive scale between authorities as an immediate priority;
b) develop public library services in-line with any future model for local government in Wales, as an ongoing commitment;
c) develop a regional or national consortium approach to the delivery of public library services in the medium-term (3-5 years), to be facilitated by a suitably funded organisation supported by the Welsh Government;
d) create a nationally co-ordinated library create a nationally co-ordinated library service for Wales as the ultimate goal.
XI. The Welsh Government should undertake the necessary legislative process which would make the Welsh Public Library Standards statutory guidance in relation to the duties imposed by the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. The Welsh Government should also consider introducing new legislation to reflect the changing requirements for the public library to deliver services collaboratively in digital environments.”