The Future of Libraries in the Information Society: The Library and Information Commission’s Vision

Margaret Haines, Chief Executive, Library and Information Commission

2 Sheraton Street
London W1V 4BH
tel: +44 171 411 0058
fax: +44 171 411 0057


Aims of the Library and Information Commission:

The Library and Information Commission (LIC) is a non-departmental public body which was established in 1995 to be a national focus of expertise on the library and information sector for England and Northern Ireland. It aims:

The LIC is also charged with specific tasks including:

Structure of the Commission:

There are 13 Commissioners including the Chairman, Matthew Evans, who were appointed by the Secretary of State on the basis of their expertise and experience. Individually, they do not represent any constituency or library sector but between them cover a wide range of information related activities such as publishing, library management, library education, local government, corporate information services, etc.

Whilst the LIC’s core remit is to provide advice on library and information issues in England and Northern Ireland, its two standing committees - the Research and International Committees, have a UK- wide remit and therefore also include members from Scotland and Wales.

The Research Committee is charged with developing a UK national strategy for research and development in the library and information field and to implement and maintain this strategy in co-ordination with the research programme of the British Library and other relevant bodies.

The International Committee provides advice on issues related to the impact of European Union policies on the UK library sector as well as monitoring and advising on information policy developments elsewhere, particularly in the G8 countries. This Committee also oversees the UK National Focal Point.

A Task Group was recently established to consider cross-sectoral issues in training of library and information workers. This group will focus initially on knowledge management (KM) as this is an issue where the LIS profession can make a significant impact but has as yet not been seen to be a lead player.

In addition to the Committee structure, there is also a small Secretariat led by a Chief Executive which is responsible for ensuring that the LIC acts as an efficient and responsive non-departmental public body; producing all internal policy papers for the Commission and all responses to consultation documents; liaising with Government departments and LIS bodies; and project managing all research for the LIC.

Whilst the LIC receives all its funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, it is there to advise all interested Government departments.

The LIC’s Ways of Working:

The LIC must work in ways which make best use of its resources and do not unnecessarily duplicate the work of other national agencies. These include:

· Taking a holistic approach

The LIC takes the view that a holistic rather than a sectoral approach is required to ensure the full contribution of the LIS community to society. It therefore focuses on cross-sectoral projects or on projects where the lessons are transferable.

· Focusing work at the national and international level

As a national advisory body, the LIC focuses its attention on national and, as appropriate, UK-wide strategic issues. The LIC may advise on local issues if it can be demonstrated that issues concerned are generalisable.

· Building Partnerships

Alliances with national co-ordinating and professional bodies are important in promoting a UK wide approach to the Information Society. Liaison with European organisations offers the potential for harmonisation of national with European policy developments. Liaison with organisations outside Europe, enables the sharing of experiences and understanding of the global context.

· Proactivity in an advisory role

The LIC reacts to requests from Government for advice but is also proactive in bringing issues to the attention of Government where there will be an impact on the LIS sector or where the LIS sector can make an valuable contribution to the broader debate on Information Society issues.

· Consulting and disseminating results widely

All advice to Government is given on the basis of as wide a process of consultation with the LIS community and the public as possible. Often the time-frame necessitates focused consultation which is why partnerships are so important. Similarly, the LIC’s policy is to disseminate information on its activities as widely as possible through conferences and seminars, the Internet, and publications.

· Demonstrating best value

The LIC advises Government on how to achieve best value in the delivery of library and information services to the public and also demonstrates best value in its own operational activities.

The LIC’s Vision of the Future of Libraries in an Information Society:

The LIC has developed a statement, 2020 Vision3 to articulate its vision of the value of library and information services, to set a context for its own action plan and to provide a framework for encouraging Government to demonstrate the value of library and information services in economic, education and social policy development.

The following is an abridged version of the Vision statement:

· The LIC believes that the UK will play a leading role in the global information economy through:

connectivity - providing universal access to the products of the human mind;

content - creating a digital library of the UK’s intellectual heritage of culture and innovation;

competences - equipping individuals and organisations to play their full role in learning and information society.

LIC’s Achievements To Date:

Whilst the purpose of this paper is to share the LIC’s vision and plans for the future, it is perhaps useful to reflect on what has already been achieved since the vision statement was produced in 1996:

The LIC’s Research Committee has commissioned research on Internet availability in public libraries; digitisation in local authority libraries and archives; library involvement in lifelong learning across sectors.

The LIC’s International Committee relaunched the UK National Focal Point for the European Libraries Programme of the EC’s DG XIII in 1996 and has provided advice to the EU on copyright, data protection, the role of libraries, etc.

The LIC produced a paper on the feasibility of a national information policy for the UK which included a comprehensive review of information policy developments in other countries commissioned from Nick Moore of the Policy Studies Institute.

The LIC’s greatest achievement is the production of a UK-wide strategy to show how public libraries could respond to the challenge of ICT technologies for the benefit of citizens of the UK. New Library: The People’s Network1 asserts that while the public library is already one of the most popular, inexpensive and successful of public services reaching 60% of the UK population, much more could be done to maximise the contribution which it should make to communities, especially in the age of the Information Society.

The Report proposes that public libraries need to supplement their existing services and collections with new content and services based on digital and network technologies. This would allow them to enhance their role in: supporting lifelong learning; facilitating citizen access to information; providing services to business; and helping to establish a record of community history and identity.

The Report argues for a managed national network to link together local public library networks and to provide a gateway to other networks. The network would be service managed to guarantee minimum bandwidth and thus predictable, stable and reliable levels of service for users.

The Report also recognises that whilst public library staff are already a highly skilled workforce, a national training strategy will be required to ensure that all 27,000 staff will have the full range of skills necessary for working within this new environment.

The Government response to the Report is expected later this month but already there have been very encouraging signs in the form of a commitment to use National Lottery money for information technology skills training and for digital content development.

A second major achievement of the LIC is the production of the national research strategy for the LIS sector. A research mapping exercise was commissioned to determine to what extent past LIS research addressed the priorities of the LIC’s Vision and to look at the impact of this research. At the same time, a wide range of LIS and non-LIS organisations were asked to identify the content of a national research strategy. The findings were incorporated into a draft national research strategy called Prospects: A Strategy for Action2 which was widely distributed throughout the UK and Europe. The final version of the Strategy will be released in April 1998.

The Strategy provides a framework for collaboration between agencies to position UK LIS research in a European and global context. Five thematic areas provide a framework within which strategic research needs are identified: connectivity, content, competences and the impact and role of LIS and the economics of LIS delivery. In addition, an action plan is proposed to improve forward planning, funding of research, quality assurance, communication about research and putting research into practice.

To implement the plan, the LIC will work collaboratively with major players in the UK LIS research field particularly with the British Library Research and Innovation Centre and with key international players such as the European Commission’s DG XIII.

New Contextual Issues and Opportunities:

In planning its activities for the next four years, the LIC is re-examining its priorities against the background of a new Government policy agenda and changes brought about by the impact of social, economic and technological trends. The areas of change which will have the most impact on the work of the LIC are:

· education and training

The UK Government’s anticipated approach to life long learning is likely to specify an overarching framework covering both compulsory and non-compulsory education. It will position the home, community and workplace as key places within which learning takes place and where the principles of the framework are applied. The policy focus is likely to be for a revolution in attitudes in order to increase understanding of, and demand for, lifelong learning. Choices will likely increase for the consumer in terms of learning pathways and qualifications and obtaining credit for learning is likely to be simplified with a new national credit framework.

A ‘University for Industry’ is central to this policy as it will provide the underpinning brokerage services and support infrastructure that will enable workers to identify learning pathways and providers appropriate for their needs. A ‘National Grid for Learning’ is also proposed which will provide a network for schools and will subsequently be opened up to the wider lifelong learning community, connecting public and national libraries, further and higher education institutions and the workplace.

· economic regeneration, regional development and devolution

Successful management of information will continue to be a characteristic of competitive advantage in both the public and private sector. The national and organizational support systems for commerce will change as businesses demand new forms of information and information systems. The impact of the decision to enter/or not to enter the EMU will also be significant in terms of new information needed by businesses and of the changes to financial systems this will require.

At the regional level in the UK, it is likely that Regional Development Agencies will play a role in sponsoring services to support regional enterprise initiatives such as local and regional information and learning networks. This will require new ways of working to construct cost-effective, collaborative networks between libraries, education and training providers and business stakeholders.

The impact of devolution, political re-organisation and constitutional reform within the UK will lead to greater regional diversity, the drive for regional and local autonomy and the creation of devolved structures for social and economic decision making. At the regional and local level, there will be major strategic and implementation demands.

· open government

Changes in society’s attitudes to both privacy and freedom of information are also likely to be areas for considerable debate and controversy. Attitudes to the communication rich/communication poor divide; the availability of socially undesirable material; personal privacy and access to government information, will be reflected in legislation and legal judgments.

Proposals to open up government including the recent Freedom of Information White Paper will make public organisations more accountable to people and will increase the extent to which these bodies involve independent individuals in their management. These trends are likely to increase the range and depth of publicly available information which is needed in order that informed decision making can take place.

· European and G8 policy developments

The LIC must be as aware of policy developments within the European Union and the G8 countries as it is of the UK Government agenda. Issues which are particularly important in this regard include:

· information and communication technology (ICT) related research programmes such as digitisation of multimedia content;

· policies and programmes to enhance the cultural and multimedia sector and to provide access to cultural heritage; etc.

In this regard, the LIC is very interested in contributing to the Green Paper on the Role of Libraries in the Information Society which is being produced by DG XIII in the European Commission and is expected before the summer break. In the website for the Green Paper, it states:

“The purpose of the Paper will be to stimulate discussion toward a coherent approach on how, within the context of an evolving Information Society, libraries can best serve the needs of European citizens by providing mediated access to the growing wealth of digital resources...The Green Paper should invoke responses from member states for future co-ordinated actions at European level aimed at: 1) the actions which can enhance or inhibit access by libraries and 2) suitable infrastructure alliances and learning materials which can assist libraries in meeting user needs.”

· social and technological change

The role of the individual within the community may change as social inclusion becomes a higher priority. There is an increasing sector of society that perceives itself as socially excluded or discriminated against including those who are disadvantaged because of disability, language, rural isolation or caring responsibilities. Concerns about the gap between the communication rich and the communication poor is already the subject of public debate.

The emergence of new forms of technology and its applications will have a profound impact upon society. In part, this will be the result of the application of technologies to work systems and processes e.g. the Year 2000 problem but it will also relate to the social and economic impact of technologies on society e.g. applications of digital information and communications services. The integration of ICT skills into the lives of individuals is critical if the benefits of increased economic prosperity and social cohesion are to be realized by the majority of the citizens.

In summary, the LIC recognizes the opportunities and the challenges presented to the LIS sector by new political, societal and technological trends, particularly:

The LIC will also need to develop partnerships within the LIS sector to:

LIC’s Proposed Agenda for Action:

In the next four years, the LIC will develop this national leadership role through work on seven action lines. Specific projects and targets will be set against each action line in annual business plans in addition to targets related to the core functions of the LIC:

Choosing annual targets for these seven core areas, particularly in relation to commissioning of research , will be heavily influenced by their relevance to the action lines listed below.

Although the LIC has been pleased to respond to the Government’s request for UK wide networking plans in the public library sector, it remains committed to a cross-sectoral rather than a sectoral approach in realising the potential value of library and information services in society.

The seven action lines are:

· Action Line 1: To contribute through Government to the development of a UK national information policy framework.

The Commission has produced for Government a policy paper on the need for a national information policy framework. It will take this forward through closer liaison with key Government officials particularly those in the Departments for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Education and Employment (DfEE), Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Cabinet Office, and will inform this work through policy seminars and papers which look at national and international developments in national information policy. The Commission sees the library network as an integral part of any pro-active national information strategy and itself as the appropriate gateway for the library community to contribute to national information policy.

· Action Line 2: To retain an active leadership role in the implementation of a networked UK public library service.

The LIC will take a leading role in the implementation of the public library network monitoring and reporting on progress, benchmarking against European and other international developments, and encouraging co-operation and participation through awards schemes. The LIC will advise lottery agencies on funding digitisation projects and training for librarians in information communication and technology. It will work closely with local government to maintain momentum and commitment to the network, and co-ordinate rollout of the network National Grid for Learning and relevant initiatives in higher education. The LIC will work with other organisations to promote the importance of information skills training throughout life for the general population and the role of libraries in providing this training.

· Action Line 3: To lead national policy development on the “UK Digital Library”.

National policies for digitisation must be cross-sectoral, cross-domain and UK-wide in scope. The LIC will take the lead in promoting national co-ordination of digitisation activities based on the recommendations in its report Virtually New: Creating the Digital Collection. The Commission will participate in national and international debate on copyright and intellectual property rights as these apply to digital material and advise Government accordingly. It will advise funding bodies such as the lottery agencies on criteria for selecting and prioritising collections for digitisation and work with appropriate bodies in the LIS community on promoting nationally recognised digitisation standards.

· Action Line 4: To ensure that library and information services are central to the Government’s plans for a learning society.

The role of library and information services in supporting learning throughout life has already been recognised in Government papers. The LIC anticipates that when the Government’s plans for education are rolled out, library and information services will be centre-stage. The LIC will therefore, with DCMS assistance, develop closer relationships with DfEE officials responsible for the National Grid for Learning and the University for Industry as well as their relevant agencies such as the Teacher Training Agency and the British Educational Communication and Technology Agency. The LIC will seek joint planning opportunities with key players in the higher and further education sectors such as the Joint Information Systems Committee of the Higher Education Funding Councils.

· Action Line 5: To develop the role of library and information services in fostering social inclusion.

Library and information services have a pivotal role in fostering social inclusion as they provide the information infrastructure which enables disadvantaged citizens to make informed choices about their lives, exercise their democratic rights and responsibilities, and to interact with other members of the community. The LIC will encourage strategic alliances between library and information services and other community organisations in order to strengthen the role of libraries as hubs in their communities and to overcome the barriers between information rich and information poor .

· Action Line 6: To demonstrate the contribution of library and information services to regional and economic development.

The LIC will consider how to promote library and information services in supporting economic activity at local and regional levels and, in particular how they can assist small and medium enterprises in partnership with Training and Enterprise Councils, Chambers of Commerce and other business information providers. The role of library and information services in economic regeneration initiatives and in relation to the proposed Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) will be explored and promoted to Government and to RDAs themselves.

· Action Line 7: To promote the importance of all library and information services to opinion formers outside and within Government.

The LIC will develop strategies to mobilise opinion formers in society who can influence the future development of public library and information services, including the 58% of the population who are library users. Successful initiatives such as the ‘Friends of the New York Public Library’ scheme will be examined as models. The value and positive impact of library and information services is beginning to be recognised in areas of Government policy such as education and health. The LIC will promote a positive attitude to all types of library and information service throughout Government. It will target departments, particularly DTI, Department for Environment and Transport, and the Treasury, with evidence of the value and impact of all types of library and information services.

· Other Activities

In addition to the activities described under the five action lines, the LIC will continue work on current initiatives of the Commission and its Research and International Committees. This includes implementation of the national research strategy, further development of the LIC role in relation to national information policy, research into knowledge management training for LIS professionals and the expansion of the services provided by the UK National Focal Point under the Fifth Framework of DG XIII.


The LIC’s 2020 Vision has captured the imagination and commitment of the LIS sector in the UK. The Vision’s core themes of connectivity, content and competences are seen as trademarks of LIC policy development. The Vision has proven to be a sound basis for the LIC’s own work programme in its first three years and will continue to underpin the LIC’s action agenda for the future.


1 New Library: The People’s Network . London: Library and Information Commission, 1997. (

2 Prospects: A Strategy for Action. London: Library and Information Commission, 1997. (

3 2020 Vision. London: Library and Information Commission. 1997.