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Public Libraries (Modernisation)

Volume 508: debated on Monday 22 March 2010

In December 2009 we published our consultation document on the future of public libraries in England and committed to publishing the Government’s vision for libraries in the spring. I have today laid before Parliament “The Modernisation Review of Public Libraries: A Policy Statement” setting out our policies for public libraries in England.

The policy statement builds on the 10-year strategy for libraries published in 2003 “Framework for the Future”. Specifically it sets out:

A Library Offer to the Public: The Government recommend a Library Offer to the public for all public libraries in England. The Library Offer will be made up of a “core offer” of services which all library services should deliver and a “local offer” of services, shaped and delivered at local level. The Government recommend all library authorities make their Library Offer to the public clear and visible to all the citizens in the area—on their website, in library buildings and through any other local marketing opportunities. The Government will review the Library Offer after two years and consider whether to legislate to make it a statutory obligation.

Free internet access: The Government expect that from April 2011 all library services will provide free internet access to users as part of their Library Offer to the public. Government will, under section 8(2)(b) of the 1964 Public Libraries Act, make an affirmative order preventing libraries from charging for internet access.

Support to get online: The Government recommend that all library services provide support and advice for users wanting to get online as part of their Library Offer to the public.

Library Membership from Birth: Research shows that children benefit in many ways from library visits and early access to books and reading. The Government expect that from April 2011 all library services offer library membership as an entitlement from birth. This might be achieved in a number of ways:

Offering library membership at the registration of a birth.

Offering library membership along with child benefits.

Offering library membership with bookstart packs.

E-Books: There are new and exciting opportunities around digital lending. With the launch of a number of different e-reading devices, digital reading is growing in the public consciousness where downloadable audio books are already fully established. Currently 14 library services offer e-book services in England with more planning to launch shortly. All lend for free. The Government believe that e-book lending is likely to form a key 24/7 public service in the future with public library services being accessed from home and on the move as well as in library buildings, and will therefore initiate changes to secondary legislation to guarantee free e-book loans. The Government will under section 8(2)(b) of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 make an affirmative order preventing libraries from charging for e-books lending of any sort including remotely.

The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964: The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 (the 1964 Act) sets out the statutory duty for all local authorities to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” library service set in the context of local need—specifically of those who live, work and study in the local area. The 1964 Act imposes a duty on the Secretary of State to oversee and promote the public library service and to secure discharge of the statutory duties of local authorities as well as providing certain powers to take action where a local authority is in breach of its own duty. The Government judge that the 1964 Act’s imposition of this duty on local authorities is appropriate and that the Secretary of State’s overview role should be maintained.

We have no plans, therefore, to review the primary legislation but recognise that the process of intervention needs modernisation.

Public Libraries (Inquiries Procedure) Rules 1992: Although the Government do not expect to activate the inquiry rules often, the Government will amend the Public Libraries (Inquiries Procedure) Rules 1992 to modernise the processes by which the Secretary of State intervenes in a library service.

Guidance on processes of engagement and consultation: Best practice guidance is issued in the policy statement on the processes which the Government recommend library authorities consider under their statutory duty. The Government will review this best practice guidance after two years and consider whether to legislate to make the guidance statutory.

Strategic Body for the Sector: The Government are minded to establish a strategic body for the sector as a means of providing a stronger national voice for libraries and improving leadership and development of the sector. As part of the wider review of arm’s length bodies, the Government will consider bringing together the functions of three different organisations—the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), the Advisory Council on Libraries and the Registrar of Public Lending Right. The Government propose the libraries body has a statutory advisory function, with the formal power to advise the Secretary of State on his role under the 1964 Act. The Government will undertake a business case in consultation with stakeholders and will publish more detail as part of the broader review of arm’s length bodies.

New Delivery Models: As local authorities face a tough spending round with hard choices to be made on front-line services, the Government encourage councils to look at new delivery models for their public library service. The Government believe that the current model of 151 library authorities is unsustainable. If the public are to be offered a comprehensive public library service at the local level, library services will either need to work closely together, merge with other authorities or establish trust models of private/public partnerships. There may also be opportunities to share services with university libraries and collaborate on opening times, access and management of stock.