Libraries of the 21st Century

The Society of Chief Librarians have this morning set out their vision for the future of public libraries with four new ‘Universal Offers’

At a press conference this morning Janene Cox, President of the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL), announced that four ‘Universal Offers’ will, for the first time, be rolled out nationally across all public libraries in England and Wales. Also announced were brand new initiatives that will be launched in public libraries throughout 2013, such as the introduction of the first national ‘Books on Prescription’ scheme for England developed with the Department of Health.

  • The four ‘Universal Offers’ have been developed by the Society of Chief Librarians and partners including Arts Council England and The Reading Agency.
  • The offers – Health, Reading, Information, and Digital – are the four service areas which modern users regard as integral to public libraries.
  • The new national approach will, for the first time, clarify what the public should be able to expect from their library.
  • Janene Cox was joined by Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, Miranda McKearney OBE, Director of The Reading Agency, and Nicky Morgan, Director of Libraries at Arts Council England.

The implementation of the Universal Offers is the first integrated national approach to library services, defining what public libraries should provide, and what users should expect. They also identify where libraries can provide real value to local people and where they will be working collectively to deliver impact in difficult times.

For example, by working smarter and collectively, libraries are prioritising some big shared reading programmes like the Reading Agency’s Summer Reading Challenge used by at least 60% of local authorities.

Janene Cox also announced new initiatives that will be launched in public libraries over the coming year like ‘Books on Prescription,’ a national scheme for England developed by the Reading Agency in partnership with SCL and with the support of partners including Arts Council England and the Department of Health. Under this scheme, GP’s and other health professionals will be able to provide prescriptions for patients with mild to moderate mental health conditions for specific CBT and self-help books which will be accessible in all English libraries. It will also, for the first time, offer people mood boosting novels and poetry plus social reading activities like reading groups.

Libraries will also be on hand to help claimants of Universal Credit, which comes into force later this year, providing internet access and support to complete the application and manage their account online. Librarians will also be able to signpost claimants to local advice agencies where needed.

Commenting on the new national offers Janene Cox, President of the Society of Chief Librarians, said:

“’At present public libraries are facing huge challenges- there are reduced budgets within local authorities, new and developing operating models and changing customer expectations and as a result SCL have worked with our partners to devise a new and creative strategy for library services which is focused around 4 universal service offers.

“These offers focus upon the service areas that our customers tell us are important and they enable libraries to continue to develop these service areas.

“Challenging times do require innovative thinking and we are determined within SCL that services will continue to progress and develop so that libraries can continue to make a difference to the communities that they serve.”

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey MP said:

“Libraries continue to be an essential part of our local communities. They entertain and educate, they act as meeting places and important sources of local information.

“The four Universal Offers clearly shows the range of services libraries now offer and this national approach will help ensure all libraries keep pace with these changing demands.

“The public library service is in good health. There were 256 million visits to England’s 3,243 libraries in 2011-12 with three quarters of children and 40 per cent of adults using our libraries. These are phenomenal statistics that show the strength and relevance of public libraries.”

Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library said:

“As vital resources for their communities, public libraries have to keep evolving to suit the changing needs of their users. This creative package of offers will mean the public can expect an even more valuable range of services from their library, giving them easier access to a wider range of information – something every library user will welcome.”

Miranda McKearney OBE, Director of The Reading Agency said:

“The Reading Agency is delighted to be leading the work with the Society of Chief Librarians on a new era of reading based health services in libraries. The charity is helping libraries work collectively to develop their services for the 6 million people with depression and anxiety. Reading is stress busting and can help people understand and manage health conditions from chronic pain to depression. We will be launching a new English Books on Prescription scheme in May and the scheme will also encourage people to enjoy mood boosting novels and poetry and to participate in reading groups.”

Nicky Morgan, Director of Libraries at Arts Council England said:

“We look forward to working with SCL on these national offers. After extensive research, we will be publishing Envisioning the library of the future in Spring – and it is great to see how well the Universal Offers play into our future plans. From Envisioning, we have found that this collaborative work is necessary to ensure that libraries thrive and survive in the face of this challenging economic situation, and technological and societal change. The libraries sector needs to have a joined-up approach – because together, we are stronger.”

Launch of the Universal Offers Media Pack

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