The National Assembly for Wales* Communities, Equality and Local Government committee has published its report today (23rd July 2014) following its inquiry into public libraries in Wales. (Report also available in Welsh.) Watch a YouTube video of the chair of the report speaking at the launch.
The inquiry was interested in a range of matters including Welsh Government policy, legislative frameworks, impact of public sector cuts, alternative models of provision, and the ‘contemporary and community role’ of public libraries.
The committee summarise the evidence presented on each topic, before commenting on “our view” for each matter and drawing up recommendations. This takes up about 40 pages followed by about 60 pages of evidence. I’ve only skim read it so far so will just make some quick comments that stand out to me thus far.
There are 10 recommendations for the Minister for Natural Resources, Culture and Sport, which I paste in below (bold my own emphasis).
- Recommendation 1. We recommend that the Minister produces and
publishes an annual report on the state of public libraries in Wales.
- Recommendation 2. We recommend that the Minister makes arrangements for the central publication of disaggregated data showing the use of public libraries by demographic groups.
- Recommendation 3. We recommend that the Minister works with partners to develop a contemporary definition of ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library services for local authorities to deliver under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. Such a definition should include the provision of internet access which, we believe, should remain free of charge.
- Recommendation 4. We recommend that the Minister considers developing a voluntary accreditation scheme for individual libraries in Wales.
- Recommendation 5. We recommend that the Minister continues to work with local authorities and their partners to identify and promote further opportunities for collaboration and co-location arrangements in the delivery of library services.
- Recommendation 6. We recommend that the Minister ensures that the necessary ongoing support and guidance is available in order to increase the long-term sustainability of community managed libraries.
- Recommendation 7. We recommend that the Minister ensures adequate support and guidance continues to be available to local authorities to identify and pursue all available funding opportunities.
- Recommendation 8. We recommend that, whilst core library services should remain free of charge, the Minister should explore with local authorities all other available options for libraries to raise revenue.
- Recommendation 9. We recommend that the Minister works with local authorities and partners to promote better the wide range of services provided by public libraries.
- Recommendation 10. We recommend that the Minister continues to pursue the case for additional funding from the UK Government in recognition of the increasing responsibilities for library staff in Wales in supporting the delivery of digital-by-default welfare reforms.
The committee did not find much appetite for replacing the 1964 Public Libraries Act (para 9) although there is a need to define ‘comprehensive and efficient’. Our Welsh Public Library Standards have sought to do this but without making it a legal definition. I was pleased to read that the committee found that the standards had led to improvements to public libraries in the last decade (para 12).
There are discussions on co-location, community-managed libraries, volunteers and funding and a strong comment on library staff “…in our view, the delivery of library services in Wales should be led by professionals who bring the necessary knowledge and expertise to the role.” (para 108)
I was pleased to read in the report that the findings were positive regarding policy delivery, and the work of CyMAL (phew!).
And finally, the committee’s view on the role of libraries is clear: “Libraries are unique in their contribution to so many areas of community life, including education, health and wellbeing, tackling poverty and social exclusion.” (para 144) (emphasis my own)
What happens next? The committee launched its report today and there was early media coverage on the BBC and WalesOnline. The Minister will respond to the report, and his expert review panel will be considering this report in the preparation of their report into public libraries in Wales. And then we’ll see what happens!
*The NAfW comprises the elected Assembly Members, their committees, working groups, the debates in the Senedd etc. It is separate from the Welsh Government which is the Cabinet (Ministers), civil servants etc, and which implements policies and laws in Wales. I work for the Welsh Government and am thus not connected in any way to the creation of the report.
PS Note that the report refers to the Minister for Culture and Sport as it was written before his portfolio changed.