Notes for a Meeting with Ed Vaizey on Tuesday 20th July 2010

1. Public Libraries are the most important of the cultural services because they are used disproportionately by the less well off, the young, elderly and the disadvantaged in our society. The first priority must be to ensure that they maintain and improve the VALUE they provide to the public, especially for the millions who rely upon the service. I suggest that at the heart of the crisis in the sector has been a failure of Government, the strategic agencies, local politicians and the professional bodies to properly understand how libraries can and should deliver value. There has been an absence of proper research at both national and local levels and this has led to a succession of failed initiatives such as Framework, Love Libraries, Better Stock Better Libraries and Blueprint for Excellence.

2. We would like to discuss:
a. The MLA/LGA led 10 authority programme about which we have several concerns as there does seem to be a lack of clarity as to the project aims and deliverables. The rather simplistic proposal to join authorities together seems not to have been fully thought through and is a much more complicated project than as first appears.
b. Everyone has long talked about the woeful lack of leadership in the sector. This is something that the Minister can tackle by making the MLA board much more effective and credible. He can appoint people with the vision, the maturity. the expertise and the ability to get everyone on the same page. The current weak board needs to be sorted and quickly. We especially need a strong and independent chair who is not afraid to challenge and lead.
c. The key issue is how a powerful message is put across to those in local government who will make the decisions. The SofA. The RSLit. The BA. Book Trust, Campaign for the Book and the Reading Agency have all indicated their support but leadership must come from within the sector. The strategic agencies and the professional bodies have got to get their act together, get everyone on the same page and speak up for libraries and the millions who use them We need a bold minister and a structure that can deliver.
d. Finally, users can and are very willing to contribute. Because of the leadership void, it is probably true that the existence of any agenda has been largely driven in response to campaigners and user groups. The Charter drawn up by the alliance of user groups provides a very valuable basis for discussion. And comprehensive research into how libraries deliver value to the public would provide the bedrock to enhance and improve the service in every authority. It will also help to convince councillors making the decisions.