Change Is Overdue – a public charter for libraries

The Charter has been drawn up by library campaigners including Tim Coates and Libraries For Life for Londoners, Alan Gibbons, Shirley Burnham (Swindon) and others. The text is below. Although it has been drawn up at a national level the intention is that local campaigners and friends/ users of libraries will tailor it to their own circumstances. You can discuss it at the Campaign AGM.

Charter text

We are currently in a situation where two thirds of people in the UK read in their free time1External link yet only one third of the population visit libraries2 External link. Why is this the case when libraries offer 24 hr web services, are open to all and provide access, free of charge, to books and an array of other interesting reading materials? Either it is because a public library service is not relevant today or, the more likely, libraries are not meeting the needs and wants of their local communities.

For too long the public library service and its management has been unresponsive to and disconnected from users and potential users. The essential value of public libraries needs to be reinforced at both local and national level and a focused effort must be made to see libraries fulfil their role and maintain their relevance for generations to come.

1. Make the libraries local

Individual libraries, large and small, need to be empowered and resourced to meet the specific needs of their local communities. The individuality of each library cannot be overstated and libraries need the freedom to operate independently.

2. Increase opening hours

In today’s society it is unforgivable that some libraries close for lunch or on certain weekdays. Providing access to library services means opening libraries at times when the community wants them open – late closing and weekend opening should be the norm.

3. Improve library collections

Library collections, book stocks and other resources, have been neglected almost everywhere and they need to be restored, maintained and made accessible. This means increased funding for new stock, replacement stock and giving the public access to special collections.

4. Improve the library environment

All public libraries should be attractive and dignified places to visit and in which to read and study. They need to be kept clean, safe and smart. Standards of interior design need to be raised and building architecture used to best effect. Appropriate local events and activities are important.

5. Embrace technology

While books should remain the focus for libraries, computers and technology can enhance users’ experience. With this in mind, computers and all associated equipment needs to be in good working order and kept up to date. Internet-based services, available round the clock, add value for many users and should be extended and promoted.

6. Liberate the library staff

Service to the public should be of a high professional standard. All staff, long or short term, full time or temporary should be trained for the roles they undertake. Volunteers are welcome for many aspects of the service, but they cannot take the place of skilled librarians in provision of the day to day service to readers.

7. Collaborate and share best practice

Collaboration between neighbouring authorities will make limited resources go further and sharing best practice will mean all libraries are better able to meet users’ expectations. A range of funding sources is available and councils need to explore the options and consult people about proposed change.

8. Don’t waste money

Accurate, meaningful and consistent reporting of library budgets and expenditure will encourage accountability and openness and mean all budget discussions are grounded in facts.

9. Performance feedback

Performance reporting should be timely accurate and clear. Every month councils should report publicly the key usage figures for each library within their responsibility.

10. Engage individuals and communities

There needs to be a substantial genuine effort to build trust between councils, government bodies, library professionals and library users. Local councillors must all be fully and properly informed about library matters and libraries should actively work with their users in managing their libraries.

11. Don’t close libraries

Of course sometimes building development means that libraries have to move; library services can be provided more efficiently in newer facilities; sometimes closures can be justified. However residents are distrustful of assurances of improvement and the onus is on councils to demonstrate the benefits of proposed changes before they are made. Savings from library closures will be tiny compared to the animosity generated among library users. Many library users belong to groups sometimes marginalized by society—the elderly, the unemployed, single-parent families—and the negative impact on these people’s lives following library closures can outweigh any cost savings.

12. Make and keep a promise

Public library users call upon councils to commit themselves to achieving the aims of this charter.
[1] Source: Social Trends 39, ONS, 2009
[2] Source: Taking Part, DCMS, 2010

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