We’ve received a lot of interest in our research published last week, Community libraries – Learning from experience: guiding principles for local authorities. I thought it would be useful for me to reiterate some of the key findings from the research, and discuss how these informed our guiding principles.
In early 2012, Alan Davey, our Chief executive, was called before the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, and answered a question about volunteers in libraries. He described how volunteers can make a useful contribution to the core services and activities of a library, but made very clear that they can never be a replacement for trained staff. The Arts Council hasn’t changed its position on this.
But what was clear was the need for an accurate picture of current community involvement in library services and, informed by that information, some guidelines for local authorities looking at how best to deliver their library services in the future.
Community libraries – Learning from experience: guiding principles for local authorities was commissioned so that we could understand exactly what the level and nature of community involvement in library services was up and down the country.
The research shows that community libraries are not just libraries run by volunteers – far from it. We found many different types of community library, some fully volunteer run, some with volunteers working alongside paid professionals, and others that are commissioned and fully funded by councils, but delivered by not-for-profit, mutual, or community organisations. Importantly, the research indicates that, in July 2012, 55 per cent of community libraries (commissioned and supported) had access to professional library staff expertise.
From the evidence that this mapping exercise has given us, we have been able to develop guiding principles to help ensure that local authorities take a strategic and long term view on what, if any, level of community involvement is appropriate for their area, and what shape it should take.
We anticipate that further research will be commissioned in Spring 2013, updating the picture of the level of community involvement in library service provision, and addressing challenges and opportunities.
Later this Spring, the Arts Council will also be publishing Envisioning the library of the future – the result of extensive research into what the library of the future could and should look like. This will help set the community libraries research in context, and will outline the Arts Council’s response to this and other new approaches to library service delivery.
This post was written by Nicky Morgan, Director, Libraries at Arts Council England.