The role of Arts Council England (ACE) in supporting public libraries could be put under the spotlight with the announcement of an inquiry into its work.
The Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which scrutinises the work of the government department of the same name, has announced an inquiry into ACE’s work.
This is important for libraries because ACE took on the role of supporting them in October 2011 after the Museums, Libraries and Archives council (MLA) was abolished. See more on its role here.
However, it is arguable that ACE, an organisation that promotes arts and culture, is not always a very good match with libraries.
While a large part of libraries’ work involves arts events and reading promotion, there are also many very significant areas that are entirely different – examples include information services, helping boost public digital and information literacy, bridging the digital divide, helping people with business start-ups or promoting health and wellbeing.
It also hinders the creation of national library standards, something many library campaigners would welcome as a way of calling local authorities to account when they propose large-scale library cuts.
If a more specialist body was charged with supporting libraries, then the aspiration of a set of minimum standards that all library authorities must meet to comply with their obligations under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act might be easier to achieve.
But this is never likely to be a priority of ACE, and it is something the present government is also notably reluctant to intervene in local authorities’ running of libraries, even though it has a duty of supervision under the Act.
The consultation will be inviting written submissions until Monday 24 February. There is more information on having your say here.