Plan for Pounds twenty million museums body

June 18, 1999

The government plans to launch a new national body for museums, libraries and archives next April.

The Museums Libraries and Archives Council (MLAC) will have an annual budget of nearly Pounds 20 million. Its creation means the Libraries and Information Commission and the Museums and Galleries Commission will be wound up.

The culture department believes the new body is needed because the sectors face very similar challenges in the future.

A spokesman said: "Issues like copyright and the development and use of information technology and digital resources need to be addressed in a coordinated way."

The new body will combine advisory, executive and funding responsibilities but will be particularly active in giving a clear strategic lead on broad policy issues for the sectors.

Advice to ministers on how to create the new body and implement its responsibilities has just been provided by a special "design group" established by the culture department. The group includes James Joll, chairman of the MGC, Matthew Evans, chairman of the LIC, and Ross Shimmon, chief executive of the Library Association. The group said it was "anxious to strike a balance between libraries, museums and archive issues, and to ensure each area was given equal weight... the needs and interests of any one area should not subsume those of the others."

But Toby Bainton, secretary of the Standing Conference of National and University Libraries, feared "the gains made by the still youthful Libraries and Information Commission could quickly be lost if it is subsumed in a larger body of any kind."

Mr Bainton said the LIC had been "outstandingly successful" in raising the profile of academic and public libraries and pointing to their potential in the electronic age. The library community will want reassurance that the LIC's activities, particularly its research work, will be maintained and expanded under the new council,

he said.

The MGC has been concerned that the government was planning to create the council from a merger of the LIC and MGC, a move that could have diluted the MGC's remit. The commission rejected the proposal when first mooted by the culture department last year. But Jeremy Warren, assistant director of the MGC, said the commission was happy with the design group's report: "It had been billed as a merger originally but now we have the details we believe the government is genuinely trying to incorporate the best of both worlds in this new council."

Roger Stratton-Smith, of the culture department's libraries, information and archives division, said: "Elements of the LIC and MGC will be taken up by the new council but it is not possible to be specific at the moment what these will be."

Details of how the MLAC will represent the work of various and many archive bodies, including the Historical Manuscripts Commission and the Public Records Office, have yet to be finalised, he said.

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