John Dolan


At 13, wise teachers sent me to Manchester Central Library for a history project. Learning to learn was the real purpose – and that’s how I’ve felt about libraries ever since. 

After Spanish Studies at Leeds I joined the Manchester Libraries graduate trainee scheme and then helped to reshape library services in the inner city through literacy, reading, learning, information services. 

1986 to St Helens, to manage libraries, archives and museums in a refreshed community leisure service in a borough facing post industrial transformation. Then to Birmingham from 1990, responsible for community library services and later head of the city’s huge library and archive services, responding to a youthful and dynamic city of a million people. I was Project Leader for The People’s Network strategy, the most transformative intervention in public libraries for decades. 

From 2000 I started to plan the Library of Birmingham, seeking a new library model for learning, heritage, cultural and community services, in spatial design, digital technologies, partnership, staff and community engagement.

I was Head of Library Policy at MLA from 2006 but changed course in 2008. I subsequently assisted with national library strategy in Bulgaria, India and, recently, Ireland. I am currently supporting the British Council in the development of new libraries in Pakistan.

I was on the Advisory Board for MAIPLE, looking at the control and filtering of internet access in public libraries, taking me full circle to my concern for the library’s role as the place for information, knowledge and ideas, a unique responsibility in an era of systemic political and economic change. My current main project is working with the British Council on library developments in Pakistan,

I am now enjoying a new role as a CILIP Mentor and am engaged voluntarily in housing and with Bournville Amnesty International group.

John Dolan

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