Ambition for public libraries...ambitious enough?

16 Dec 2016 |Written by Laura Dennis

Earlier this month we saw the publication of an updated version of the Libraries Ambition Document. It has been published by the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce, the team who sit within the Department for Culture Media and Sport and who are tasked with implementing the recommendations of the Independent Library Report for England and promoting libraries to national and local government.

The Ambition Document sets out their vision for how libraries in the 21st century can contribute to the delivery of seven areas:

  1. Reading and literacy
  2. Digital literacy
  3. Health and wellbeing
  4. Economic growth
  5. Culture and creativity
  6. Communities
  7. Learning

At Good Things Foundation, we’re as passionate about the success of libraries as the Taskforce themselves and so we’ve got a vested interest in this document. It’s great to see that user needs across generations have been identified and that the report highlights how libraries cater for each of these needs. Although it sets out a positive future for libraries, there aren’t any new recommendations for how library services can become more sustainable in the future. Yes, the ambition document suggests that libraries think outside the box and support other services (including health and jobseeking), there isn’t anything particularly new that hasn’t been said previously. 

Good Things Foundation have been supporting libraries over the last 10 years to be innovative and deliver digital skills, and this hasn’t held off the barrage of cuts which have been waged against services across the country. Something clearly needs to change and fast. 

Libraries have to evolve with the world around them and understandably that won’t be easy in a time when all public services are expected to do more with less. This was supported by a quote but Minister for Civil Society Rob Wilson MP, who said “Standing still is not an option if libraries are to thrive and work best for communities in the 21st century,”

We were pleased to see the launch of the £4 million Opportunities for Everyone Innovation Fund managed by Arts Council England to support libraries to, among other things, improve access to technology. We’d like to see this money used to invest in new kit across libraries and in services such as digital outreach classes helping people where they need it the most. Libraries like our Online Centres are well placed within their communities to reach those who would ordinarily be ‘missed’ by mainstream support. 

The future viability and usage of libraries depends on them meeting the needs of the people they are there to serve and this is something we’re fully supportive of. We’d love nothing more than to see a thriving library in every community across the UK - but we need to be ambitious and to make change happen in order to do this. I hope that the document is ambitious enough for us to achieve this.