It is 20 years since the New Labour Government sought to establish a national policy on archives and records management when, in 1999, it published Principles of Government Policy on Archives. This noted the role played by archive repositories in the management of current records and the selection of historical archives and acknowledged the need to develop a cross-sectoral agenda with archives forging closer links to museums and libraries. Although the emphasis was on the effectiveness and economy of a policy for England in particular, there were aspects relevant to the UK as a whole.
The National Archives, a non-ministerial department, is the official archive and publisher for the UK Government and for England and Wales. It collects and preserves the national collection in its care for posterity. It provides additional services for Wales in its capacity as the National Archives of Wales.
The British Newspaper Archive is a partnership between the British Library and the organisation ’Findmypast‘, which is digitising up to 40 million newspaper pages held by the BL.
773 public libraries and book lending services have been closed between 2010 and 2019 according to The Guardian of 16th January 2020 (’Britain has closed almost 800 libraries since 2010, figures show’). This represents almost one-fifth o the UK’s libraries according to the Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA). In a press release (6th December 2019) CIPFA said that the context for this was a 29.6% decline on expenditure due to government austerity policies. Many public libraries are only kept open because of volunteers, the number of which have more than. doubled to more than 51,000 to help make up for the loss of many library posts. Between 2010/11 and 2016/17 book stock for lending in libraries was estimated to have fallen by 17.7%. Moreover, a lot of school libraries are being closed or levels of service reduced in England and Wales due to local authority budgetary constraints.
The British Library is the national library of the UK with more than 170 million items. Publishers are obliged to make a legal deposit to the Library of a copy of every UK publication (as well as to five major libraries in the UK). One of those libraries, the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, has an extensive collection of books, newspaper, manuscripts, maps, film and photographs.
In its role as the national development agency for libraries, Arts Council England seeks to promote libraries to national and local government and strengthen the quality and respect libraries have as cultural hubs and through National Lottery Project Grants. ACE has assumed responsibility from DCMS for the Libraries Taskforce until March 2020. The Taskforce was established to deliver the recommendations of the Independent Library Report for England of 2014. In its Corporate Priorities 2018-20 ACE has a lead role in one of the key recommendations of the Independent Library Report: the development of a single digital presence in public libraries (which it will undertake in partnership with the British Library and Carnegie UK Trust). It also partners the Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals and the Society of Chief Librarians in the delivery of the Public Libraries Skills Strategy 2017-2030. The Skills Strategy makes recommendations on attracting, retaining and developing talent, targeting diversity, investing in professional skills, promoting leadership, and lowering the barrier for entry to the profession.