The UK Department for Culture, Media & Sport (headed by Ed Vaizey) and Department for Communities and Local Government have jointly commissioned “an independent report on the public library service in England,” to be led by “philanthropist, entrepreneur and publisher William Sieghart.” This is the same William Sieghart who led the fairly well-regarded previous report on UK ebook lending services, “An Independent Review of E-Lending in Public Libraries in England,” in March 2013 – known up till now as the Sieghart report. But I guess there’ll now be another report to bear that monicker.
The questions for the new report to address include: “What are the core principles of a public library into the future?,” “Is the current model of delivery the most comprehensive and efficient?,” and “What is the role of community libraries?”
Massive skepticism is likely to attend anything commissioned by Ed Vaizey. (This is the man who received a vote of no confidence from the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals, remember?) And the suspicion here is that the report is simply a deliberate attempt to divert attention, blunt criticism, and waste time, while the real business of starving public libraries out of existence goes on elsewhere. That choice of questions will only help reinforce the skepticism, given the emphasis on service delivery models, and on community libraries – a.k.a. the government’s attempt to foster local volunteer libraries that it doesn’t have to pay for.
The Library Campaign certainly makes no bones about its view of the report. “Oh no! Another time-wasting inquiry!” it declares. “Another report is the last thing we need. We are knee-deep in reports already, and they all say much the same thing,” it continues, adding “Library users don’t feature in the panel set to conduct the inquiry,” and “Local councils will set their budgets later this month. Plans for further mass cuts, closures or dumping are a certainty.”
Vaizey himself is quoted on the report’s introductory page: “The public library service in England has served us extremely well for more than a century and continues to play a vital role in communities. Reports of its demise appear with weary predictability, but are entirely unfounded.”
Readers can probably judge that for themselves. There are certainly a lot of those reports around, many of them well substantiated. Are we going to get yet another report to verify the truth or falsehood of those reports? Time will tell. Meantime, this Sieghart report has issued a call for evidence, with submissions to be received by Friday March 21st.