Public libraries, or the soapbox again

Just read the MLA Blueprint. But now Tim Coates tells us it’s a dead letter anyway- that MLA has no role in public libraries. Now they will be managed as part of the government’s community strategy, putting them under the DCLG.

Quoting Tim, ‘PS – This is not the kind of change will be accompanied by a press release! Don’t expect to see it on a Government website. But it is true nevertheless.’ This much seems true. The DCMS website still has all its library ‘what we do’ links.

The Blueprint itself is not particularly inspiring. It is overlong and rather managerial in tone. This is not to deny that some of it is good; it stresses reading and access as the main elements of the ‘core offer’ that public libraries will provide. Whether ‘reading’ in itself is the thing, or access to reading as a way of getting to other things, is a debate for another day. But it’s nice to see a government agency not completely in thrall to ICT.

Where it gets tricky is in the vision of the public library as ‘development agency.’ I support the idea of libraries playing their part in learning, development and community strengthening. But they do this best by being good libraries, not by diluting energies through multi-agency box ticking.

Co-operation is important- I myself have been to talk to public library colleagues about referring people to/from college- but the public library needs to concentrate on its role.

A good library, well-stocked and staffed by committed people, will provide the right context for people to go on to access further services.

As to where libraries should go in the government that too is a debate for another day. But where they go does tell us how government sees libraries- and putting them in Communities shows us they see them as engines for social change…

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