Like many others I viewed, with a fair amount of disappointment but little surprise, how ACE think public libraries should be integrated into a wider arts & culture strategic framework. The big mistake here is the assumption that libraries are a strand of cultural provision when in fact arts and culture is but one strand of partnership working and activity that libraries undertake. There is a subtle but very important difference here. Obviously, the biggest mistake was putting public libraries under the remit of ACE in the first place.
This is not the first time that library staff and campaigners have faced a disappointing response from ACE. The Envisioning the Library of the Future report, with its over-optimistic view of the impact of library closures and the ability of volunteers to fill the gap, is still derided by many within the profession. That said, they are a government funded body, so perhaps it is unrealistic to expect them to prioritise the views of campaigners over driving forward the government’s agenda in order to justify their own funding.
Even the SCL have waded into the debate pointing out that the important work of supporting IT literacy, community health, and generating economic prosperity was not reflected in the strategy. In other words, ignoring most of the SCL universal offers scheme.
Rather than cultural provision it is education and information provision that are at the heart of what libraries do. This is their core function, their raison d’etre. A fact that ACE repeatedly, and perhaps deliberately, fails to understand.
Part of Carnegie’s dictum was to “spend the first third of one’s life getting all the education one can.” This is still as appropriate today as in Carnegie’s time. And libraries still have an important role to play in helping people achieve this; through supporting formal education, lifelong learning, and providing the best possible access to information. Equally, libraries are about fostering a love of reading for pleasure. This is not a luxury but a social and economic imperative.
For me, arts and cultural activities for libraries are a ‘nice to have’. Whereas, education and information access are an essential ‘have’. In times of limited and dwindling funding I know where I would choose to concentrate my resources.
NB: A excellent comment by Desmond Clarke re: ACE strategy can be found on the PLN website.