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The new government's commitment to public libraries continuing to provide free book lending, reference and other co...
The new government's commitment to public libraries continuing to provide free book lending, reference and other core services was spelled out today by arts minister Mark Fisher.

He also said the government would be examining whether public libraries could benefit more from the national lottery.

Addressing a seminar on the future of libraries and information services organised by Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London, Mr Fisher said:

'Public libraries are one of the linchpins of our cultural life. They act as a gateway to our cultural heritage and are the focal points within communities for cultural activities. Each library is a repository for the recorded history and life of the area it serves, provides encouragement to the production of such material, and gives access to culture and knowledge from other parts of the world.

'The government is committed to the principle of public libraries providing free access to core services such as book lending and book reference. But we want to go beyond simply maintaining the status quo.

'We want to ensure that libraries receive their due recognition and play a full part in shaping this country's future. We want them to develop into an outward looking and pro-active resource that both underpins our knowledge and information base, and plays an active part in delivering wider social and economic benefits.

Mr Fisher said the main strategic issues facing the library sector over the next five years include:

-- how can the role of the public library be promoted and developed? Library services would provide a significant element of local authorities' cultural and leisure strategies, encompassing annual public library plans detailing performance and future plans.

-- How will libraries respond to the challenge of information technology? A working group within the Library and Information Commission was consulting widely on a range of issues. Its report would offer guidance of the path to follow.

-- How will future development be funded? The government will look at allocation of existing resources from both public and private sources. One additional source is the national lottery.

Mr Fisher added:

'We intend to review the distribution of lottery proceeds and what other areas might benefit - subject, of course to our commitment that lottery funding should be strictly additional to current public expenditure. We will look very carefully at the case for supporting activity in libraries as part of our policy to refocus the lottery so that more people can feel its benefits.'

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