The future for local library services

  First of all – I’d like to wish everyone all the best for 2013. 2012 will be a hard act to follow – it was an amazing year for culture and sport, and provided a much needed morale boost in these challenging economic times. Local people and places came together to cheer Team GB on to fill the nation’s medal cabinet to the brim, and streets up and down the country were abuzz with parties to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee or to welcome the Torch Relay to their local communities.

A constant factor throughout the year was libraries, and how they are able to bring local people together and deliver wider community outcomes far beyond their vital reading and literacy functions into health, education, employment, money management and improving life chances. Little can rouse such emotion as any proposal for a local library to be closed. But this is one of the most difficult decisions for any Council to take. Councils fully understand that library closures can have a significant impact on local communities.

But the hard facts speak for themselves. Local authorities are facing a possible £1 billion cut to funding for 2013/14 on top of the 28 per cent reduction set out in the spending review and the further 2 per cent announced in the Autumn Statement. This means that no council or council service is immune from these cuts. As a result the library landscape is radically changing with many councils having little option but to consider how best to continue delivering a library service for their local area. But inherent in this challenge are exciting opportunities: opportunities for local political and professional leaders to be creative in re-designing their library services, coupled with a change of thinking by local communities as to how their library services are run. Last year we saw impressive levels of innovation and commitment by both councils and the communities they serve, with councils supporting an increasing number of communities to run their own community libraries. To kick start this year, the LGA and Arts Council are near completing a piece of community library research looking at disseminating the learning coming from the various models of community libraries across the country.

Last year the LGA also launched a good practice publication Local solutions for future local library services, which shared a plethora of good practice case studies by councils. We also ran a very successful libraries self-improvement offer, including a series of libraries leadership seminars where members came together to share good practice and spearhead innovation. This year I am delighted to say we will be doing more of the same, and I know we will see even more innovation from councils who are committed to delivering better library services. By the end of this year I am pleased to say that we will have worked with the library portfolio holder from nearly every council through our self-improvement offer. For more information on the LGA self-improvement offer for libraries visit our website and join our 21st Century Knowledge Hub group. We are also always keen to hear your views by emailing us at cts@local.gov.uk.

The LGA look forward to continuing to work with cCLOA and other professional bodies in furthering our support to councils on the library agenda in this coming year.

Councillor Flick Rae, Chairman LGA Culture, Tourism & Sport Board