Friday, 1 February 2013

Community managed libraries and Wales

CILIP Cymru Wales wholeheartedly supports the press release issued by CILIP  in London on 25 January 2013 – “Chartered Institute warns of dangerous “headlong rush” to create more community managed libraries”. However, despite being in the enviable position of having a national libraries strategy, and associated public library standards, we recognise that Wales is not immune to the realities of library closures and increasing likelihood of volunteer-assisted and community-managed services. We argue that the characteristics of geography and economic deprivation in Wales will mean that many community–managed library services in Wales will be unsustainable.

CILIP Cymru Wales share and echo the concerns identified by CILIP on the recent publication of the Arts Council for England report into community-managed libraries. We concur that:

·         “Good public libraries need the expertise  and knowledge of skilled staff to provide quality services”. The implication that community managed libraries will provide a similar level of service to properly staffed libraries is incorrect. Volunteers should only complement and not displace paid staff, as enshrined in CILIP statement on volunteering in public libraries.
·         Many volunteers in libraries are in the horrid position of having to manage their library or to lose it entirely. The recent report from the National Federation of Women’s Institutes demonstrates that the experiences of volunteers in community managed libraries are not always positive.
·         Community managed libraries raise the spectre of a two-tier public library service. CILIP’s vision is for a fair and economically prosperous society underpinned by literacy, access to information and the transfer of knowledge. A two-tier service is far from our vision for equity of access for all.
·         The call for publication and dissemination of the research used in the production of the ACE Report is also supported by CILIP Cymru Wales. We need access to as much research and evidence about volunteer / community managed libraries as possible.

In Wales public library services are fortunate in being underpinned by the Welsh Government’s strategy Libraries Inspire” and the Welsh Public Library Standards. We also appreciate the direct Ministerial and Departmental (CyMAL) support and recognition for the value that public library services provide to communities and their social, educational, health, cultural and  economic wellbeing. (For instance, see this earlier blog). The tradition of political support for public libraries in Wales is a long and proud one. Nevertheless, Welsh unitary authorities are facing increasingly difficult budget settlements, coupled with increasing demands on their statutory services. A as a consequence we are beginning to see library closures in Wales.

CILIP Cymru Wales recognises that in some areas the landscape of public library service delivery needs to change. Improved public library services may result through partnership working with other agencies and bodies,   through relocation to shared buildings, to locations that are easier to access, and to buildings that can be maintained  and run more cost effectively, whilst also meeting more of the needs of the communities that they serve. We also recognise that Wales is not immune to the prospect of increasing numbers of community managed libraries . However, as the ACE report records:
“evidence suggests that low-income communities are likely to find it harder to play pro-active and sustainable role in managing their local libraries”.
This is particularly relevant to many areas in Wales, especially in these difficult economic times. The likelihood of sustainable community managed  library services within rural and sparsely populated areas is also very doubtful, and another key factor in Wales.

CILIP Cymru Wales will be doing all that we can to lobby against a “headlong rush into community-managed libraries”. Such a solution would, in most instances, not be fit for Wales, and so would have negative implications for the people of Wales. The status quo is not in itself sustainable, and so we recognise that change in the library landscape of Wales should and must happen. But we will be seeking to work with others to ensure that creative partnerships, collaborations and solutions result in  the provision of  sustainable, vibrant, effective and enriching public library services that are available to all in Wales.


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