Thursday, 24 January 2013

Welsh Government Minister speaks powerfully in support of public library services

At the launch of the First Incomplete Field Guide to Wellbeing in Libraries, at a conference in Newport on Thursday 16 January 2013, Huw Lewis AM, Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage, spoke powerfully in recognition of the significant contributions that public libraries make in supporting the health and wellbeing of people in Wales.  It seemed to be the consensus of delegates that Huw spoke more powerfully on this occasion than anytime previously,  in support of public libraries in Wales , noting the strong contrasts between the situation in Wales and England. The Minister encouraged delegates to contact CyMAL at an early stage with any concerns about changes to public library services in Wales. CyMAL would seek to work in partnership with the Service and the Local Authority to address such concerns. The implication appeared to be that the Welsh Government would ensure that standards of public library service and provision in Wales must be maintained despite the current public sector financial restrictions. Lines in the sand have been drawn.

Professor Sir Mansel Aylward (Chair, Public Health Wales) and Huw Lewis AM celebrate the launch of the First Incomplete Field Guide to Wellbeing in Libraries. Image (c) LibraryWales http://librarywales.org/blogs/marketing/?p=2947

Libraries aren’t add-ons; they are not extras or “nice to haves”. The provision of information and knowledge isn’t an extra.
I made notes on Huw’s speech, and as there doesn’t appear to be a publicly available copy, it may be useful to summarise the main points here. This is far from a verbatim report, but I hope that I have the main thrust and points to the speech. If you were there and disagree, or have more to add, please do comment!
Public Libraries do invaluable work to support the delivery and improvement of health and wellbeing. Being at the heart of our communities libraries are safe, social, supportive, open to all, and are recognised as being reliable and trustworthy. Libraries have a profound impact on peoples’ lives and quality of life – they are hugely empowering. The Incomplete Field Guide illustrates and demonstrates the many ways in which public libraries support health and wellbeing in Wales. It is hoped that the Guide will serve as a catalyst or stimulus for further development, especially for the creation of new partnerships and developments.
Government policy needs to take a holistic view – serving the needs of the whole of society and of the whole person. Libraries can support the delivery of holistic services. Libraries link people with the information that they need, and so will aid this holistic provision.
We should recognise that Wales is a world-leader in developing the first Books on Prescription Scheme. An innovative partnership of mental health professionals, GPs and Public Libraries saw the development, in 2003, of the Cardiff-based scheme prescribing titles to support the treatment of mild and moderate mental health conditions. The scheme expanded across all of Wales in 2005 to become Book Prescription Wales. BPW remains a highly valued initiative by the Welsh Government.  Indeed, many nations have now followed Wales’ lead, implementing similar books on prescription schemes.
We are living in economically very difficult times, but never has the Welsh body-politic turned its back on libraries. Indeed, the agenda of modernisation is truly alive today
The Welsh Government continues to support, celebrate, showcase, expand the agenda for, and to protect public libraries. The contrast is especially stark when compared with England. In Wales the number of visits to public libraries continues to increase. Not so in many English public library authorities.  It would appear that in England, Local Councils see public libraries as disposable assets, closing libraries or pushing them out to be volunteer–run. For Wales the view is most certainly different. Libraries aren’t add-ons; they are not extras or “nice to haves”. The provision of information and knowledge isn’t an extra.
We are living in economically very difficult times, but never has the Welsh body-politic turned its back on libraries. Indeed, the agenda of modernisation is truly alive today, supported through CyMAL Funding. Public Libraries, the Welsh Government in CyMAL, and local authorities need to work in partnership to enhance and ensure modernisation of public libraries. There is strong need for continued work for libraries to address the needs of new audiences, continuing to serve traditional or “core” library users, but engaging and working with new audiences. The Incomplete Field Guide illustrates much great work in this area and developments such as this need to continue and expand.
Partnership working with CyMAL was especially stressed. The Minister urged us to provide CyMAL with early indications of concern or of problems in public libraries. There are very clear expectations for standards of public libraries in Wales. The implication appeared to be that CyMAL and the Welsh Government will take a strong stance to ensure that these requirements are achieved.
In closing his speech the Minister stressed that healthy public libraries are a pre-requisite of civilised living. He urged us to take the Incomplete Field Guide as a source of inspiration and to build on this. Mental health provides a massive, challenging agenda. Austerity also provides significant challenges. How do we continue to provide the same level of service, or make improvements, during these tough times? We must share good practice and develop productive partnerships in order to meet the challenges of supporting improving mental health and austerity.
Public Health in Wales is high on the agenda, with the direction of travel seeking to empower people to best help themselves. Public Health Wales and Public Libraries have a lot to gain in working together in this context.
the Minister continues to place Public Libraries at the heart of a civilised society, and sees them as essential in delivering, through partnership with others, vital services including those that benefit health and wellbeing.
Informal feedback from a few delegates I spoke to after the event agreed that this was the strongest, most supportive speech for public libraries in Wales that the Minister has made so far. Let us be under no illusions, local authorities in Wales are under increasing financial pressures, and are facing very real difficulties in balancing budgets whilst maintaining core services such as education and social services. All public library services in Wales are feeling these pressures. But the Minister continues to place Public Libraries at the heart of a civilised society, and sees them as essential in delivering, through partnership with others, vital services including those that benefit health and wellbeing.  Delegates came away feeling that the Minister would take action where a public library authority fails to adequately support its service.

Update:  Yesterdays Daily Post North Wales includes information about CyMAL's intervention with Anglesey Council over planned budget cuts to the service. See http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/2013/01/23/anglesey-libraries-face-spiral-of-decline-warn-welsh-government-body-55578-32657437/ . I can do no better than quote Ian Anstice in Public Libraries News of 23 January:

 "There have been a lot of changes in councils today with Anglesey, Denbighshire, Kent, Leicester, Newport, Southampton and Tower Hamlets all having amendments on the list. While the changes make clear that Wales is not exempt from cuts, the clear difference is that the Welsh Government - in the form of Cymal - has issued what amounts as a warning to Anglesey.  Such a direct action would simply never happen in 2013 England."
Stephen Gregory
Policy Officer (Wales) - Maternity Cover
CILIP Cymru

Further update 1/2/13 - The Incomplete Field Guide is now available at

 

No comments:

Post a comment