[Editor’s note: Guest post from Isobel Hunter, chief executive of Libraries Connected. Last in the series to introduce the new members of the ACE national portfolio]
Hopefully, by now, most people in the library world will be aware that recently the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) relaunched as Libraries Connected. The relaunch happened at our annual seminar in June, which also coincided with the handover of presidency from Neil MacInnes to Mark Freeman. Both Neil and Mark have blogged about their reflections on the organisation.
New Sector Support Organisation
Behind the name change lies a massive programme of transformation which has included employment of a paid team for the first time, and establishment as a charity to open up new routes to funding. The most significant development is our new status as one of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio Organisations, commissioned to work as a Sector Support Organisation. This brings a 4 year funding settlement, which has allowed us to employ a small core team. Roles have been designed to be flexible and mobile – so we work across the country – and also to form a lean backbone onto which additional roles can be built as more funding is secured.
The funding is obviously very important to us, but of equal significance is the status and responsibility the role of being a Sector Support Organisation brings. Library leadership is complex, as it is shared across a number of bodies, but SSO status means we will work closely with Arts Council England (ACE) in its role as development agency, and with DCMS in its policy and oversight work.
What we bring is deep roots – as we are in and of the sector and our work will continue to be driven by the expertise of our members using our “test and learn” approach in libraries across the country.
The plan for Year 1
As a Sector Support Organisation, we have agreed a business plan with ACE, which sets out our an ambitious plan. Year 1 is very much about ensuring we have firm foundations for the years ahead, so includes setting up the team and processes, as well as taking stock and reshaping work where necessary.
One of our major activities will be a review of the Universal Offers – which set out the core offer every library makes to its users. These are acknowledged by many in the library world to be really valuable in showcasing what libraries do to funders, the public and decision makers, and they are full of useful toolkits, resources, case studies and programmes for libraries to draw on. However, they have grown rather organically over the last few years so it’s time to take stock and streamline them so they can continue to be useful over the next few years.
SCL was very effective in securing funding – and this is a tradition we want to continue and expand. Although we have ACE funding for the next 4 years, we can’t afford to rest on our laurels and have started to set out how we will expand our funding base, to bring in more resource for our work and for the work of libraries. We have already submitted 6 funding bids and expressions of interest since May – so it is an area that is a high priority for us. We have also been reviewing our commercial activities, to ensure we are on a strong footing in the future to pursue opportunities that fit with the core mission and values of libraries as well as generating income.
However, generating additional income and supporting activity in libraries is only a part of it. As I set out in a blog on our website recently, as a library leadership body Libraries Connected has a critical mission to look at the sector as a whole. We need to work closely with ACE, DCMS, CILIP and the British Library to identify a sustainable foundation for public libraries that takes us beyond the current funding crisis. The core mission of public libraries has been remarkably stable since the first Public Libraries Act in 1850, although the way they have been funded, managed and delivered has been a process of continual evolution. In this period when the state is undergoing major change, it is our task to look ahead and provide the vision and leadership so libraries can flourish in the future.
Please note, this is a guest blog. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of DCMS or the Libraries Taskforce