In 2003 the Department published Framework for the Future, its national strategy for public libraries over the next 10 years. Since then the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) has devised and led on an action plan to take forward its recommendations. Over the last 12 months the MLA has undertaken a considerable number of activities to help individual library authorities improve their services. These have included publishing several reports such as on improved stock procurement by libraries, and on how libraries might engage more fully with their local communities together with a toolkit to help them do so. Programmes of leadership training and peer reviews of individual library authorities have continued and a review of the Public Library Service Standards has been instituted.
A full list of its activities is contained in the latest quarterly monitoring report (to June 2006) to be found on the MLA website at http://www.mla.gov.uk/website/programmes/framework/background/background A new action plan setting out the MLA’s proposed activities over the period 2006 to 2008 may also be found there.
The Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Expenditure (CIPFA) estimates that the following sums of capital expenditure were spent on public library refurbishments between 1997-98 and 2004-05.
£ 1997-98 7,248,043 1998-99 8,378,576 1999-2000 8,628,365 2000-01 10,328,347 2001-02 20,091,390 2002-03 21,050,013 2003-04 16,675,414 2004-05 26,357,075
These figures show that capital expenditure has increased from £7.2 million (over £8.5 million in 2004-05 prices) to over £26 million. This represents a three fold uplift across the period in real terms.
In 2001 my Department introduced the Public Library standards, to help to define local authorities' statutory duty. Two of these standards have regard to the lending stock held by libraries, setting targets for items added to the collections through purchase per 1,000 population, and time taken to replenish the stock. Since 2001 there has been significant improvement in these areas primed by these standards, which both aim to encourage the quantity, freshness and condition of the stock that library users find when they visit.
Reader development organisation Opening the Book has been joint funded by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), Arts Council England and the Audit Commission to deliver a stock quality health check of public libraries. This looks in detail at the range and depth of adult fiction and poetry stock in public libraries, and the findings are made available online (www.stockquality.org/stockquality/). This tool continues to enable them to compare themselves with other authorities—105 of the 149 English authorities did so last year—and to understand how their existing book selection systems might align their purchasing more closely with the varying needs of local communities.
The MLA has also developed a national book purchasing model for public libraries. This was published in August this year under the title Better Stock, Better Libraries. The report outlines how up to 20 million of savings can be made for local authorities through joint selection and purchasing, and creates a significant opportunity for authorities to reinvest those savings in improving library services to customers, including their book stock levels. The next stage of the project will develop the proposals in detail and test them fully—including the costs, risks and benefits—before they are implemented.
The People's Network was introduced from 2002 onwards, connecting all public libraries in England to the internet through publicly accessible computers.
At the time of the Network's introduction, the intention was that it should be free universally at point of use. The majority of the 149 library authorities do not charge for public access to it. However, the decision whether or not to charge for this access rests with the individual authorities. All authorities that do charge offer concessions for particular types of user and some offer free access each day for a limited period.
The Library Buildings Survey, funded by DCMS and commissioned by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, was published on 18 September 2006.
The Survey results can be found at: