Supporting Libraries, Supporting our Future: towards a blueprint for a collaborative support infrastructure in England

October 31, 2019

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By Jenny Peachey, Senior Policy and Development Officer, Carnegie UK Trust


At the end of September 2019, Libraries Connected, CILIP and Carnegie UK Trust published a report scoping the structural support that can be brought into the wider national operating environment for public libraries in England.

The Trust was keen to support this work because we are conscious that development initiatives – including our own – have tended to focus on supporting innovation and change within individual library services. Whilst we firmly believe that these types of initiatives are important and necessary, we recognise that these efforts are only part of the picture. In particular, there is a need to consider the structural support that can be brought into the wider environment with a view to supporting the sustainability and security of the sector as a whole.

Supporting this scoping exercise was, for us, a way to address this gap in focus and take steps towards exploring what structural support in the national operating environment could look like. The goal? To ensure a confident and dynamic public library network in England with a robust funding base.

Based on desk review, interviews and workshops with a sample of Heads of Library Services, local government officers, elected representatives, strategic national bodies and potential funders, the project tested a number of initial ideas about the possible components of a support system for a confident and sustainable public library network.

The seven key strands of work that were identified as leading to long-term and co-ordinated improvements in structural support for the sector are as follows:

  • Nationally organised and funded infrastructure and creative programmes.
  • National standards or accreditation to define a quality service.
  • Nationally co-ordinated monitoring and evaluation.
  • National digital public library service.
  • Regional network providing development and support to local libraries.
  • Nationally co-ordinated workforce development to ensure a future-ready workforce.
  • Support for new governance and delivery models.

The fact that work is already in train across some of these work streams is hugely positive and demonstrates that national support is starting to mobilise towards the needs of the sector. The report’s draft theory of change brings the seven concepts together, providing a common framework for national sector support bodies and local services to work closely together and combine their efforts towards a shared goal.

Our hope at CUKT is that this report will provide a starting point for a blueprint for a collaborative support infrastructure that bridges national organisations and local public library services, cements joint working and is successful in securing a sustainable national network of public libraries for the benefit of future generations