Parliamentary report calls for government to support and modernise libraries

Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee report says libraries are ‘an important part of a community’s infrastructure’

A new report has recommended that the government support and modernise libraries because they are “an important part of a community’s infrastructure”, especially for those who “are digitally excluded or who live in deprived neighbourhoods”.

Libraries Connected, an independent charity representing public libraries, welcomed the report’s findings, with its chief executive Isobel Hunter saying the group was “pleased that the committee recognises the crucial role libraries can play in tackling place-based inequalities across the UK”.

The report, titled Reimagining where we live: cultural placemaking and the levelling up agenda put together by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, recommends that the government should “support the development of a network of hubs providing cultural spaces, workspaces and free, fast internet access in places most in need of levelling up in order to modernise library service provision”.

The report highlights that libraries could be “engines for entrepreneurship, economic growth and job creation through the services they offer”, citing the British Library’s Business and IP Centre (BPIC) Network. It also found that libraries provided “important services to people from a range of socioeconomic groups”, such as a physical study space and a venue in which to host community and cultural events and activities.

Libraries also contributed “to quality of life, alongside other infrastructure like heritage, museums, local media and so on”, said the committee, and gave people reasons to visit high streets and town centres, as around 25% of libraries in England are located on high streets and a further 65% are close to one.

Hunter said that it was “reassuring” to see libraries’ “many cross-cutting benefits for literacy, health, culture, digital inclusion and business … acknowledged at a time when many library services are facing the prospect of budget reductions”.

“The evidence heard by the committee makes a very strong case that public libraries have a central role in the levelling up agenda,” she added. “We welcome the committee’s call for greater investment in libraries and urge the government to implement the report’s recommendations.”

The committee’s library recommendations are included in the wider report on “cultural placemaking”, which it says “refers to the role of arts, culture and heritage in shaping the places where we live” and can support the government’s levelling up agenda.

However, the committee said that it found “pervasive and persistent barriers to cultural placemaking”, including geographical disparities in funding, and “long-term sustainability and accessibility”.

The latest annual figures from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (Cipfa), covering the year to March 2021, found that the number of library branches in the UK increased to 3,842 in 2021, from 3,662, after years of decline. However, Cipfa admitted this was based on “provisional” data.

Dozens of libraries around the country are preparing to become “warm banks” or “warm spaces” this winter, to help vulnerable people as the price of electricity goes up and the cost of living crisis sets in.

The government has two months to respond to the committee’s report.

Contributor

Sarah Shaffi

The GuardianTramp

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