UK Library CampaignAfter the recent spate of bad news around state support for Great Britain’s public libraries, including modernization and e-lending initiatives, the Library Campaign, a UK activist charity seeking “to advance the lifelong education of the public by the promotion, support, assistance and improvement of libraries,” could be forgiven for expecting little from public discussions with Brian Ashley, newly appointed Director for Libraries at the Arts Council England in April. And they were not disappointed.

In a live chat hosted by the Arts Council in early June, Ashley asserted that his organization was fully committed to library modernization: “Envisioning the library of the future that using digital technology and creative media to the full is one of the key priorities for libraries in the future.”

However, one respondent countered in an emailed question that:

“The public library service has been very slow to respond to e-book developments and the online provision of ‘have to have information’ by the leading global media businesses. This is partly due to the fragmentation of the service (151 separately managed authorities, just in England) and the lack of investment in technologies.”

The Library Campaign’s tart comment on the whole session was that: “A lot of questions went unanswered,” and Ashley’s few answers, “boil down to: ‘Everything’s fine. And if it’s not, it’s nothing to do with us’.”

They were obviously hoping for better things from their own live chat with Brian Ashley on June 29th. However, the two-hour-long Q&A brought cold comfort, as recounted by Public Libraries News. Ashley began by pointing out that “between 2010 to 2016 most library services will lose 30 to 40 percent budget.” He also indicated that the total ACE funding available for library development was around £500,000 (U.S. $757,460), or even less. Other institutions also have funding responsibilities for libraries, but those, Ashley added, are being cut even worse—and he took pains to emphasize the need for unfinanced volunteer libraries and librarians.

UK Library CampaignLaura Swaffield at least received a commitment that the Library Campaign would be included in future consultations. “E-books are being looked at,” Ashley continued. “We cannot commit to campaigners being included in advice and I will not promise anything I cannot deliver.”

“People recognise passion when they see it,” Ashley went on. “ACE recognises the importance of education and literacy. It is not the role of ACE to be individual assessors. Our role is to pose searching questions: have you done research? Where’s the evidence?”

Others might turn those searching questions back on the ACE itself. “I’m still not even entirely assured that ACE sees library users, and those who have been forced to try to run libraries, as its explicit concern,” observed Laura Swaffield, Chair of the Library Campaign, prior to the live chat. I doubt she came away any more assured.


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