Last week Manchester Central Library hosted the latest Libraries Taskforce meeting. It was my first meeting and it was good to engage with a number of people in one room, passionate and ambitious about the present and future of libraries and the public library offer, challenging ideas and ideals and mapping a way forward to ensure libraries continue to serve the needs of their communities. And during breaks in the meeting having those ideas reinforced by the looks of concentration and delight on faces of Manchester schoolchildren on end of year trips, borrowing books for the #BigFriendlyRead, and exploring the current exhibits, archives and special collections – year 3 children accessing our Shakespeare Second Folio and the original charter which established Manchester. This led me to reflect on how libraries across the country would at the same moment be similarly energised with activity that both engaged and developed their communities and on how this work was of increasing importance and national significance.
It has been a busy first month as President of SCL, a role I assumed from Ciara Eastell on 9 June at #SCLHorizons. The SCL Presidency lasts two years, however there’s a lot to be done. We had a Universal Offers Leads meeting last week to map out our action plan, supported by Arts Council England over the next two years and I am keen to improve SCL’s advocacy role on order to share some of the excellent things that are happening in libraries across the country. There is a need to showcase the public library offer and the need for leadership, innovation and partnerships to promote the wider role that public libraries can play to support the growth, reform and the place agenda. I’m planning to visit regional SCL groups over the next two years, and we have established a core SCL Executive group to help push forward all of the work that SCL does.
We are poised to support the imminent publication of Libraries Deliver- Ambition for English public libraries. We welcome the new Libraries Minister following recent changes in government. We look forward to meeting with him to discuss the importance of public libraries and the critical role they play in modern society.
SCL continues to work hard to make sure public libraries are recognised as a key critical resource in enabling the delivery of Assisted Digital and library staff have been supporting our residents to go on-line and access the wealth of digital resources that the Internet brings for more than a decade now. The recent success of SCL being awarded and accepted on to a government framework which will enable us to bid for Government tenders in assisted digital and digital inclusion is a really exciting opportunity for public libraries.
We have confirmed the new Universal Offer leads who are bringing dynamic ideas to the offers and I would like to thank those leads who are standing down for all their hard work. Universal Offer leads will be providing an update on activity following on from our very successful roadshows attended by over 600 library staff.
Finally, one of the areas we are keen to develop is closer collaboration with our colleagues across the home nations. When Libraries Deliver is published we will see each home nation delivering to a library strategy with many synergies, common areas and opportunities to share and learn from each other with the potential to look at some joint projects and learning. We have in the past twelve months had a number of conversations with the Heads of Public Libraries Scotland and SLIC.
Libraries continue to connect and reach across borders and in this age of instant information and access, public libraries do not operate in isolation. We, as members of the worldwide library community exchange ideas and inspiration for how to best serve library users. Our work with colleagues across Europe as part of the Public Libraries 2020 programme continues to be rewarding and, with a main focus on advocacy, vital for the sector. Public libraries are free, welcoming, and empowering spaces for discovery and debate, accessible to people of all backgrounds and faiths and we will continue to work alongside international colleagues to promote the important role that libraries play in changing lives.
All in all the year in training supporting Ciara as President Elect has held me in good stead but no one should ever underestimate the time which SCL members devote to supporting and promoting the sector in their own time as well as doing their day jobs. I congratulate and thank everyone involved in Team SCL !