The chief executive of Northamptonshire County Council will take charge of a national taskforce to reverse the decline of libraries in the UK.
Paul Blantern was today (Thursday, December 18) unveiled as the head of the new body, which has been set up in response to the findings of the Sieghart Review of library services across Britain
The taskforce will work with councils across the country and will report to Government ministers to help develop library services to make sure they are fit for the 21st century.
Hundreds of libraries in Britain have shut in the last three years.
The county council says today’s announcement is recognition of the library model adopted in Northamptonshire which has resulted in a wider range of services being made available in libraries despite growing financial pressures.
Dr Blantern said: “We can see that in other areas of the country libraries have been closed and services have been scaled back but I’m extremely proud that in Northamptonshire we have reinvented our libraries to offer an ever widening range of public services.
“Using our LibraryPlus model we have involved and engaged local people to not only ensure all of our libraries remain open, but also extend their opening hours, expand how they are utilised in the community and make sure they are fit for the digital age.
“I think this taskforce is a real opportunity to show how national and local Government can work hand in hand to secure a very real step change in the offering of a highly regarded service.
“I firmly believe that just as libraries have been key over recent history in driving up literacy rates they now are at the forefront of improving what we call digital fluency through their increasing IT offer as well as some of the more traditional services they offer.
“Being appointed to this position I believe is a significant testament to the journey we have already embarked on in Northamptonshire. I am looking forward to understanding how we can get momentum for all libraries to be positioned as key assets locally and deliver the Sieghart review in an action centred way.”
The taskforce has a remit which will see it support the creation of a national digital library network, develop the library workforce, especially new recruits and graduates, and develop best practice guidelines to help local authorities when working with volunteers and community-led libraries.
The announcement of Dr Blantern’s appointment comes three months after Northamptonshire’s LibraryPlus service won the nationally coveted Municipal Journal Best Council Services Team Award.
Dr Blantern will be supported by a number of national technical experts in implementing the findings of the Sieghart Review. The taskforce will hold its first meeting in spring 2015.