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Written Statement - Libraries Inspire

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Alun Ffred Jones, Minister for Heritage

I have been using the library to write CV’s. The staff have helped and supported me all the way. I have been unemployed for a few years and have taken the opportunity to do some OCN qualifications through the Gateways scheme within the library –as a result I now have a new job, my life has been transformed!

This quote from a young library user in Blaenau Gwent underlines that libraries are as important to our communities as ever and especially in the current economic climate.

I am pleased to take this opportunity today to draw your attention to the Welsh Assembly Government’s consultation paper entitled Libraries Inspire which outlines a draft strategic framework for the development of our libraries. It is based on extensive research.

The Welsh Assembly Government’s highly successful Libraries for Life programme will be completed this year. As part of this programme we have seen increased partnership working between academic and public libraries to open up access to their collections and services. 

Libraries for Life provided grants to modernise 68 public libraries across Wales in partnership with local authorities. Local authorities have also secured funding from alternative sources to modernise libraries such as Cardiff, Swansea and Bangor libraries. This unprecedented investment has coincided with an increase in the number of visitors to public libraries in 2008-09 and 2009-10.

The Libraries Inspire draft framework proposes to continue to develop this integrated library strategy that embraces Higher and Further Education libraries, the National Library of Wales, workplace libraries as well as public libraries.  This approach is unique in the UK context and rare in other countries. The vision and core offer outlined in Libraries Inspire is one which all Welsh libraries can embrace.

These are difficult economic times and there has been much political debate and coverage in the press about possible public library closures.  The local government settlement in Wales has meant that we have not seen the widespread closures being proposed in England.  However there are a small number of Welsh authorities that have put forward proposals to close libraries and my officials at CyMAL are monitoring the situation.

The Welsh Public Library Standards introduced by the Welsh Assembly Government in 2002 led to improved services and a greater focus on library delivery and performance in many local authorities. One of the primary aims of the new Public Library Standards which come into effect in April will be to protect library services from “disproportionate resource reductions”.

A key theme of Libraries Inspire is to develop more sustainable models of service delivery. In line with other publicly funded services, there is a need to look at more efficient ways of delivering our services. There are many good examples in Wales where co-operation between library services has led to reduced costs and a more consistent delivery of services across Wales. The current mergers in the FE and HE sector provide opportunities to review library service delivery in these institutions.

For example the National Library of Wales is currently leading on the procurement of an online newspaper service on behalf of Welsh libraries.  This has delivered significant savings and improved access, including access from home for library members.

It is important that we learn from these developments and look for opportunities to make the best use of our funding and to improve the delivery of our services.

Research has shown that there is widespread support for the continuation of the public library modernisation programme as part of Libraries Inspire.  The grants have been successful in attracting more visitors to libraries and creating an attractive environment for the delivery of other community services.

I saw at first hand during my recent visit to Rhyl Library how Denbighshire is working with:

  • Llandrillo College to provide courses to develop people’s ICT skills. The library also provides free ICT taster sessions as part of the BBC’s First Click campaign.
  • the Flying Start scheme to encourage parents to read and share a love of books with their children.

At the Llynfi Library, Maesteg, I saw how Bridgend Library Service is working with Jobcentre Plus to assist people back into work.

These examples underline how libraries contribute to a number of our cross-cutting priorities.

Educational and public libraries clearly have a role to play in improving Wales’ literacy levels, a subject that has featured in recent debates in this very chamber.

Another key initiative in the Libraries Inspire framework is to provide support for an all-Wales initiative led by Cardiff University’s Information Services to develop people’s information handling skills. Today more than ever people are bombarded with information and it is essential that people have the right skills to understand and engage with digital information. This work will involve public, schools, FE and HE libraries working together to support all age groups.

We need to continue with the successful campaign to make everyone aware of the wide range of services available for modern library services including free access to computers and Internet access. Retaining existing users and attracting new audiences is a major theme in Libraries Inspire.

Libraries must continue to embrace new opportunities such as Twitter, Facebook and e-books as the way people communicate and read continues to change at an increasingly rapid rate.

Above all, our research has identified the importance of engaged and enthusiastic staff in helping users get the most out of their library experiences. We will continue to support the professional development of library staff as their job becomes increasing complex.

These are difficult times for many library services, but are even more difficult times for people such as those looking for work and looking to develop their skills. If we want libraries to continue to be at the heart of our communities, I would strongly recommend that you respond to this consultation which closes shortly on the 31st of March