Live chat with Brian Ashley, Director, Libraries

Live chat with the Arts Council's Director, Libraries, Brian Ashley, Wednesday 5 June 2013.

Welcome to the Arts Council live chat blog. Questions and answers from the live chat will be posted below.

You can find out more about our upcoming live chats and download transcripts on our website. Join the live chat conversation #ACElibraries.

The live chat begins at 12pm, and the link to the chat room will be posted here shortly before it opens.

Please refresh this page to see the latest posts.

Welcome to our chat with Arts Council’s Director, Libraries, Brian Ashley. Brian will be here until 1pm to answer as many questions about libraries as possible. Please abide by our live chat rules of engagement

ACE Moderator: Hello everyone, thank you for joining us for our live chat with our Director, Libraries, Brian Ashley. Brian will be answering questions from 12pm to 1pm. We hope to get through as many as possible in the next hour, but if we don’t get to yours there will be other opportunities to share your thoughts on our blog. We will make a transcript of this chat available online at when it’s finished.

ACE Brian: Hi everyone - Brian here - looking forward to answering your questions.

ACE Moderator: Question from Mike Bedford, Library Volunteer, Chalfont St Giles Buckinghamshire, by email: More than 10 years ago £100m of lottery funds was spent on getting computers into public libraries (the Peoples Network). The computer infrastructure in libraries now needs updating for the modern age (wi-fi, tablets, faster and slicker internet access , e-book platforms etc.). Do you see it as part of your role to obtain funding to update the computer infrastructure in public libraries?

ACE Brian: Hi Mike. We certainly have a role to play here, and we have made clear in Envisioning the library of the future that using digital technology and creative media to the full is one of the key priorities for libraries in the future, and we will be working with our partners on that. In the meantime, some services have already benefitted from investment through the Libraries development initiative, and the Grants for the arts Libraries fund to enhance their digital provision in imaginative ways. However, it is worth pointing out that the computer infrastructure, along with the day-to-day running costs of public libraries, is the responsibility of each local authority, who will all have their own strategies and partnerships for making progress. Many of them have been doing just that.

ACE Moderator: Question from Desmond Clarke by email: The public library service has been very slow to respond to e-book developments and the online provision of "have to have information" by the leading global media businesses. This is partly due to the fragmentation of the service (151 separately managed authorities, just in England) and the lack of investment in technologies. Does ACE have any skills and expertise to help library authorities and will it help the service to develop a national catalogue and delivery system as is being developed or considered in some North American and European countries? How does ACE believe that the public library service should compete with the service, marketing and technology expertise of the emerging commercial competitors?

ACE Brian: Hi Desmond. E-books can be borrowed now from around three quarters of library services. The level of service and range of stock is influenced by many factors, often beyond the control of library services, as was recognised by the Sieghart Review. The library sector was a major partner in that review and, with publishers and others, is actively involved in testing new models to resolve the concerns of those involved. The Arts Council is involved in advising and supporting that process. In a digital age, the right information is not always easy to find simply because there is more of it, and so the role of library to support this navigation in an impartial way is very important. The library sector, with financial and practical help from MLA and now the Arts Council has secured cost effective access to a range of authoritative information sources through Reference Online which users can access free through their own library website.

ACE Moderator: Question from Ian Anstice, Public Libraries News, by email and Twitter: Can you tell me if see public libraries as in crisis or thriving and give some reasons for your answer?

ACE Brian: Hello Ian. As is well recognised, and has been clearly reflected in our Envisioning research, libraries will need to adapt to numerous challenges and opportunities both now and in the future - and this is a phenomenon seen across the country. Some of this isn’t comfortable, but it is also encouraging libraries reflect on what their communities want from their services, and to modernise in light of that. Just look at the Libraries development initiative project in Derby, which helped users to find work by offering drama and art classes that boosted their confidence for future job interviews. When the picture varies so much across the country, it would not be helpful to describe public libraries in England as either thriving or in crisis. For the Arts Council, we feel that the research we have published provides the sector with the best possible opportunity to work together to demonstrate that libraries have a positive and vital role to play in people’s lives, and in supporting this country through difficult economic times.

ACE Moderator: Question from Kate Millin, Kate Millin Consulting: What will ACE be doing to promote work based on the detailed research findings completed as part of this consultation?

ACE Brian: Good afternoon Kate. Our first task will be to work with our partners about the focus for work based on these findings. We expect to share progress via our website and social media, and our partners will, no doubt, be keeping their own networks informed as well.

Library Campaign8681: Your research has not examined the implications of current radical change in the way public library services are actually delivered - ie thru a much smaller chain of local branches, with far fewer expert staff?

ACE Brian: Hi there. Two of the four key priority areas that emerged from our Envisioning the library of the future research were around the things you mention here - resilient libraries and having the right skills in the workforce. So these are exactly the kinds of issues we will explore when we work with our partners.

Desmond: Brian, which organisation do you believe is responsible for providing strategic leadership for the sector, the need for which has been identified by the All Party Parliamentary Library Group, the current minister and the shadow minister, amongst many others.

ACE Brian: Desmond, as the Group identified, leadership is shared among a number of bodies. Our particular role is for library development and we have been doing this through our Envisioning research but also through the Libraries development initiative and future programmes of work such as Enterprising Libraries. What Envisioning has really shown us is that we need to work together on this with our partners.

ACE Moderator: Comment from @iLoveSidmouth via twitter: if they focus on children's books and activities such as Nantwich Library in Cheshire, they are thriving.

Library Campaign8681: Who are your partners? Do they include library users & people forced to try to run libraries?

ACE Brian: Hi there. The partners we're working with are DCMS, the LGA, SCL, the British Library and CILIP. But this is just the start, we will be inviting others to get involved. We're really keen to hear a broad range of views, this is why I am answering questions today and will be out and about talking to others, such as at your AGM on 29 June.

Desmond: What is the Group to whom you refer

ACE Brian: Hi Desmond - I was referring to the APPG that you mentioned.

flowprojects: Hello Brian, I am presently piloting a project with an artist working in community libraries using art and blogging as a bridge between books and technology. I have spoken with my regional office but think this could be a regional and/or national project. Should I speak to anyone beyond the County about the overview? you can see artist blog at­/category/forest-of-dean/ We're getting a great response from people wanting to learn, from public, businessmen, volunteers and artists too. I should have said, this was with small amount of local funding that is committed to spend in the Forest of Dean, so it is short and sharp as a pilot.  

ACE Brian: Hi - this sounds really interesting. The best thing for you to do is to contact your local Relationship Manager - if you're not sure who this is you can contact our Enquiries team (  

ACE Moderator: Question from Frances Hendrix by email: Would the director care to comment on the attached statement from, New Zealand Library Association. Are we in this position now in the UK and what can ACE and the UK Library Association do about it? Budget cuts put pressure on libraries, communities – Scoop (New Zealand). “The Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA) is challenging local authorities to think about the long-term future of their communities before cutting library budgets.” … ““In this digital age libraries are constantly evolving in order to provide the latest technologies but also to provide much needed access to Government services, job seeking assistance and basic digital literacy skills. Budget cuts mean many libraries are already struggling to deliver quality services to their communities. For many libraries, there is simply nothing left to cut”.” Link:  

ACE Brian: Hi Frances. This shows that libraries around the world are facing similar issues – even if the specific circumstances vary from place to place. We want to use the findings from Envisioning to help those who are faced with making difficult decisions to recognise the wider value that library services offer to communities. We will be encouraging collaborations that enable the public to continue to have access to services. The way libraries are involved in discussions about the implementation of Universal Credit is a case in point. We believe, with our partners, that libraries are part of the solution, and not part of the problem.  Thanks for your questions - sorry we haven't been able to answer them all but I hope there will be other chances to talk soon. 

ACE Moderator: Thank you everyone for taking part. You will be able to download a transcript of this live chat and find out about future live chats on our Live chat web page.

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