MPs and Peers call for a national 'Public Library Improvement Fund' to build stronger, smarter communities
The Libraries APPG is calling for long-term sustainable funding in public libraries, asking Parliamentarians to invest £50 million per year, creating more opportunities for communities accross the UK.
With the rise of the Internet, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that libraries were living on borrowed time.
And yet in communities across the country, public libraries are thriving. The fastest-growing user group for public libraries is now young people aged 15-24 and each year libraries support at least 194m in-person visits and nearly 95m more online.
These startling findings are part of a new report published yesterday by The Big Issue and CILIP, the UKs’ Library Association. Called Public Libraries: The Case for Support, the report brings together the latest research and analysis to showcase the renaissance in our public libraries and call for long-term sustainable funding to help them do more.
Much of this renaissance is driven by a new ‘magic formula’ – pioneered in leading services like Liverpool – which re-defines libraries as “one third books and information, one third digital and one third experiences and activities”, all supported by modern, attractive spaces and a ‘can do’ attitude from library staff.
This formula is helping many local libraries re-define their relationship with their community. In places like Leeds, local libraries now deliver a range of co-located services including books and reading, access to Council services and opportunities for community participation, all supported by professional librarians. At the same time, modernised buildings and refurbished venues are helping give local communities more of a sense of pride in the places where they live – a vital part of regeneration in many parts of the country.
New research from the British Library, cited in the Big Issue/CILIP report, shows that libraries are the perfect platform to support local enterprises and start-up businesses. The new Business and IP Centres in public libraries have supported the creation of 12,288 new businesses, creating a GVA of £78m with significant scope for growth in the years ahead.
England currently spends around £800m a year on public library provision and 75% of the population say that local libraries are important to their community. This was further evidenced by the support for libraries that Big Issue readers sent in to the magazine, some of which is included in the report.
The Case for Support report highlights a return of between £5 and £7 for every £1 the taxpayer spends on libraries, with new research in Suffolk showing an additional £8 for every £1 spent in terms of ‘social capital’ generated. However, despite this significant ROI, many library authorities are having to make significant cuts to provision as a result of the withdrawal of central Government funding.
Libraries are evolving and innovating, but to do so they need sustainable long-term financial support to maintain their premises, update their digital infrastructure and retain professional staff. That is why, through the Libraries APPG, we are calling on fellow Parliamentarians to support proposals for a new investment of up to £50m per year over the lifetime of the next Parliament to create a national Public Library Improvement Fund – ensuring that the library renaissance reaches every community across the UK. We are excited about the possibilities that our new public libraries can offer for communities everywhere.
Gill Furness is Labour MP for Sheffield and Chair of the APPG Libraries. Lord Tope is a Liberal Democrat Member of the House of Lords and Co-Chair of the APPG Libraries. Lord Bird is a Crossbench Member of the House of Lords and Co-Chair of the APPG Libraries.