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					Libraries leading the way: a regional
library development programme for
NEMLAC and North East of England

Penny Wilkinson
Deputy Chief Executive, North East Museums Libraries & Archives Council
Tel: 0191 222 1661 E-mail: penny.wilkinson@nemlac.co.uk

Libraries Leading the Way is a report based on work over a year to create a regional development programme for NEMLAC and

the library domain in the North East of England. This article summarises the content and findings of Libraries Leading the Way

and considers its significance for higher and further education libraries and their staff.

Several government departments have library services under their direct or indirect aegis – the Department for

Education & Skills for higher and further education; the Department of Health for National Health Service libraries;

the Department for Culture Media and Sport for public libraries. Resource is funded by DCMS to develop the

museums, libraries and archives within a regional context through development agencies such as NEMLAC. A

number of government policy initiatives affect libraries – the DfES White Paper The future of higher education and the

DoH’s Information for health which is helping to define NHS library services. The major policy statement for public

libraries Framework for the future: libraries, learning and information in the next decade has been published by DCMS and

Resource has published the Framework’s implementation plan Turning vision into action for public libraries.
The North East of England faces significant challenges in terms of economic and social regeneration. Strategies to

tackle these have been developed by our major regional agencies: the Regional Economic Strategy; the Framework for

Regional Employment and Skills Action; the Regional E-strategy; the Regional Basic Skills Strategy, the North East

Cultural Strategy and local Learning & Skills Council’s strategies. Our libraries have a major contribution to make in

helping the region deliver its visions. By harnessing the resources and geographic reach of libraries we are a

powerful partner for many of the changes crucial to the region’s future success.

NEMLAC is working with regional library bodies to develop new partnerships with the major regional organisations

to ensure that the contribution of libraries to national agendas and to our Region is realised to the full.

Libraries Leading the Way aimed to identify the key drivers and common needs of the library domain and the key

specific needs of each library sub-domain. The work would also identify which regional bodies engage with the

region’s library domain as well as NEMLAC, clarifying the roles and responsibilities of those bodies. The specific role

of NEMLAC in regional library development would be established and the relationship of NEMLAC to other

regional and national bodies would be defined. The appropriate communication systems between NEMLAC and

library bodies would be determined. Finally, how NEMLAC could address regional library development needs in its

cross sectoral work and in relation to its library specific initiatives.

Subsequent to applying standard research methodologies, NEMLAC undertook a series of consultative interviews

and workshops from July 2002 to March 2003. The drafting of intermediate reports, potential conclusions and draft

recommendations were regularly tested through iterative consultations with interviewees and other stakeholders.

Working closely with all levels of library staff the work was informed and guided by an Advisory Group of senior

library managers, including Dr John Hall (Durham University), carried out by Dr Graham Walton of Northumbria

University and coordinated by Penny Wilkinson of NEMLAC.

The library and information domain in the North East is a mix of several sub-domains. Including the major blocs of

the public library and higher education each sub domain is subject to its own key priorities both in terms of national

and local policies and to relevant institutional or corporate priorities. The ability to develop a unified strategy for

library development across the whole domain at a regional level is therefore constrained. However, during

consultation a shared perception emerged that these were indeed exciting times for libraries, offering considerable

opportunity and a number of directions in which to take the domain.
Libraries have a vital and pro-active role to play in the emerging knowledge economy and information society by

developing the citizen’s information skills and creating access to knowledge. This was qualified with real concerns

that there are significant challenges which have to be overcome if library services are to thrive. Some libraries lack

resources and this undermines their ability to deliver services. All services are having to deal new developments

related to the needs of their users, developing information and communication technologies (ICT), facing human

resource issues, seeking clarity about their service’s education and learning role, coping with a lack of appropriate

funding, solving issues of equity of access and enabling collaboration with other services.

Other common themes emerged: the ability of library staff to deal effectively with change; the quality of leadership;

the recruitment and retention of staff at all levels; the new skills required to deal with ICT, and the librarian’s new

role in the learning matrix.

Whilst higher and further education libraries shared many of the above concerns others had particular impact: virtual

learning environments; services to meet the needs of a wider constituency of student users; providing learning

support - not simply a library or information service; the implications of 24x7 delivery; broadening links with

libraries outside higher education; developing closer links with further education and sixth form colleges;

developing staff to respond to changing delivery needs; and developing a greater focus on users and their

particular needs.

NEMLAC’s annual corporate plan is the framework for strategic change for the sector, including the library domain,

and identifies the key policies and priorities it will pursue, working across the three domains. As outcomes of the

research and consultation for Libraries Leading the Way, NEMLAC identified two key priorities and four specific needs

for regional library development:

   • Advocacy - for NEMLAC to provide an informed, effective and authoritative voice for the regional library

     domain and library sub domains at local, regional and national level.

   • Collaboration and partnerships - for NEMLAC to facilitate the extension and development of partnership

     working within and between library sub domains.


   • Disseminating best practice in library service provision.
   • Support in securing funding for library development.

   • Harvesting data and evidence through research on the activity, value and impact of the library domain.
   • Staff development and training.

From those six issues Libraries Leading the Way formulated 19 recommendations, subsequently developed into an

Action Plan.

Two other important needs were expressed through the consultation process - ICT development and supporting

learning. NEMLAC’s current corporate plan had identified these two areas for museum, library and archive cross

domain strategic development. NEMLAC is already involved in the delivery of several related key national library

programmes including INSPIRE, the People’s Network, Full Disclosure and the Reaching the Regions project with the

British Library.

If Libraries Leading The Way is to succeed, libraries in the North East will have to make a commitment to the principles

and proposals of the action plan and to collaborate with NEMLAC to achieve change. Ways of working and

enhanced communications between NEMLAC and the library domain are being created to ensure that energy and

enthusiasm built up during the work which led to the development programme is maintained and developed for the


Evidence of the success of Libraries Leading The Way will be seen in a stronger awareness by other regional agencies

and sectors of the role and contribution of libraries to the North East and in a better informed and skilled workforce

within the library domain. The result should lead to increased use of existing services, an expansion of services

through new partnerships and funding and an increased and more diverse community of users. The ultimate aim of

the Libraries Leading The Way is to achieve maximum access to content and services for users in the region - a common

aim that all libraries in the region share.

University libraries are active members of a regional library cross-sector partnership Libraries and Information

North East (LINE). University librarians noted that there is often a greater impetus to collaborate at a national rather

than at a regional level. However, the importance of partnerships at a regional level in resolving common issues

and as a way of reducing pressure on resources was recognised. Key interests in regional collaboration are to widen

access to resources across the region, building links with public and further education libraries, and mapping special

collections across the domain to support access strategies. Higher education libraries are already involved in a

number of partnership projects such as Reaching the Regions, PEARL, LASH and SOPNE which have demonstrated

the opportunity and benefit of cross domain, cross sector working with museums and archives.
NEMLAC believes Libraries Leading The Way will encourage and enable more partnerships and collaborations,

helping further and higher education libraries to more effectively deal with their current challenges and those of the


Libraries Leading The Way and the action plan are available at www.nemlac.co.uk.

Copies of the Libraries Leading The Way are available by contacting michael.long@nemlac.co.uk

  • Reaching the Regions a major partnership between the British Library and NEMLAC, the aim of which is to
     provide access to the Library’s world class collections through a range of collaborative projects and initiatives

     throughout the region. NEMLAC has been awarded £100,000 to develop those projects.

  • SOPNE : Sense of Place North East is a major digitisation project supported by the New Opportunities Fund

     and currently running five linked programmes.

  • PEARL is a teaching and training partnership between Northumbria University and Newcastle and Gateshead

     Libraries. PEARL (Partnership in Education Achievement, Research and Learning) unites the university’s school

     of informatics and the two public library services in a pioneering venture to provide work-based training and

     research opportunities for university students.

  • LASH Libraries Access Sunderland Scheme - a partnership of Sunderland public, university and college

     libraries supporting common access and borrowing.

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