Ken Skates, Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism
I am committed to our public libraries being welcoming community hubs which deliver a range of digital, literacy and cultural services, as well as providing access to other services. Since October 2014 my officials in Museums, Archives and Libraries Division have been working with the library sector to progress the recommendations of the Expert Review and the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee’s Inquiry Report. The most recent achievement is the publication of the report Scoping a New Public Library Service for Wales. This report considers options for the future management of public libraries.
The next national strategy for libraries will build on best practice delivered during the Libraries Inspire strategy, but will need to accommodate challenging financial contexts. The Scoping report identifies the community hub library, with access to multiple local services, as a potential future model. The Welsh Government’s capital programme for modernising local libraries is now focused on supporting co-located community hubs. I am pleased to report that by March 2016, over 100 libraries will have been modernised as part of this grant scheme. My officials are completing a mapping exercise to assess the location and capacity of Welsh public libraries, and these findings will be used in future planning.
A recent development is the establishment of small, community-managed libraries, which otherwise would have closed. It is a testament to the value which local communities place on library provision that they help deliver the service. I published the Guidance on Community Managed Libraries and the Statutory Provision of Public Library Services in Wales in May 2015, in consultation with stakeholders, in order to clarify circumstances where these libraries might be included within statutory provision. The guidance is based on the 18 core entitlements of our Welsh Public Library Standards. My officials continue to use the Standards as the main mechanism to ensure that local authorities deliver quality library services for the benefit of all.
Libraries play an important role in reducing the digital divide, including free access to the Internet and computers and helping people to improve their digital skills. Library staff are supporting more people who need to get online for the first time, as a result of the UK government’s plan that welfare benefits and employment support can only be accessed online.
Libraries depend upon an efficient and effective professional workforce. I have commissioned a strategic review of the library workforce in Wales to help inform future planning.
The next library strategy for Wales will not only emphasise community, digital and workforce elements but will review additional opportunities for shared procurement, which will help to secure better value and broaden choices for users. In August 2015 I announced the agreement to establish an all-Wales Library Management System for public libraries, facilitating a single library card for Wales. Roll-out will commence in the six north Wales library services and will be operational in 2016, with potential costs savings of up to 70% compared to current expenditure on this infrastructure.
In addition to planning for the future the innovative and successful national library strategy Libraries Inspire is contributing towards Programme for Government objectives such as improving literacy. By March 2016 the Every Child A Library Member initiative will have been rolled out across Wales, targeting 35,000 children aged 8-9 years to be automatically signed up to their public library service.
The role of libraries in tackling poverty is central to the aims of the Fusion Programme which I launched in May 2015. We are using the framework provided by the recommendations of Baroness Andrews' seminal report, Culture and Poverty (2014), to encourage participation and engagement in cultural activities in our deprived areas. A recent successful competition, Rugby Stories, held in partnership with the Welsh Rugby Union, exemplifies the approach of using libraries to stimulate involvement by young people in activities to promote literacy.
The future will require our libraries to be innovative and agile. Despite the current financial challenges, the value placed on our libraries requires us all to ensure that they continue to deliver as vibrant, trusted, relevant services and spaces.