16 Jul 2015

Providing a Map and a Compass: developing Scotland’s first national strategy for public libraries

Guest post by Martyn Evans, Chair of the National Strategy for Public Libraries in Scotland Strategic Group. The Group was established and supported by the Scottish Library and Information Council.

As with the rest of the UK and beyond, public libraries in Scotland are undergoing a period of transition. A decline in book lending, the sea-change in how information and knowledge is created and shared due to digital technology, the shifting needs of the community, the current economic climate, and a need for stronger leadership within the sector are all part of this picture of change.

Map and Compass
Given this context, the National Strategy for Public Libraries Strategic Group set out to develop a strategy (available here) that would prove to be both a map and a compass: a map to show the terrain ahead and a compass to set a clear direction of travel. The hope? To show libraries how to plot a way through the ever-changing now. The destination? A future where libraries shift from safeguarding and lending information to actively helping citizens engage with information to improve their wellbeing, aspirations and potential.

Vision, Mission and Strategic Aims
Following from this, the group articulated a vision where public libraries ‘are trusted guides connecting all of our people to the world's possibilities and opportunities' and set out to be ‘part of a shared civic ambition to fulfil the potential of individuals and communities’. To deliver on this vision we set out six strategic aims, each one clearly linked to national outcomes and indicators outlined in the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework, and has detailed recommendations.

The aims are:
1. Promote reading literacy and learning
2. Promote digital inclusion
3. Promote economic wellbeing
4. Promote social wellbeing
5. Promote culture and creativity
6. Libraries as excellent public services

Interwoven throughout the aims is a focus on performance (and, crucially, measuring what matters), promotion, partnership, people and leadership.

Challenging perceptions
The strategy articulates the activities, aims and impacts of our public libraries in a way that draws in and engages a wider set of partners, advocates and stakeholders. It challenges non-library stakeholders to recognise public libraries’ potential to deliver on shared ambitions. It is also a challenge to those within the sector who say ‘but libraries already do all this’: examples of innovative practice do of course exist, but this does not equate to good practice across the board. Neither is there convincing evidence of libraries’ contributions that is meaningful to Scotland’s decision-makers and influencers.

Final Thoughts
We have worked hard to sift through the evidence and views of library funders and providers, users and non-users of public libraries. We have learned from library services in other jurisdictions of the UK and further afield. Our hope is that an agreed and widely supported national strategy for public libraries in Scotland will:
• Reinvigorate advocates for public libraries and encourage them to forge links with ‘unusual friends’
• Align and make explicit the wide range of activities provided by library services with the priorities
  of funders and decision-makers
• Support library service to become even more active and confident partners with other services
• Encourage librarians to be vocal leaders in the digital age on access to information, intellectual
  freedom  and freedom of expression
• Embrace an evidence-based and measurement-rich culture

It was a great privilege to Chair this enthusiastic and expert Group. We had some fascinating discussions. I hope you enjoy reading the Strategy and feel you can help deliver its recommendations.


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