Ross Shimmon, chief executive of the Library Association, said there was a "terrible tendency" for other organisations to ignore the library system, duplicate things it was already doing or invent new institutions which could be more effectively run in close co-operation with libraries "Please don't reinvent the wheel," he told a joint conference of the Basic Skills Agency and the LA in London on raising standards.
Mr Shimmon added that the national curriculum had been developed in ignorance of the effect it would have on an underfunded school library service which was vital to its delivery. He urged politicians to build on the success of the UK library service which reaches 24 million people a year - three out of five of the adult population.
"If we could achieve a modest level of additional investment, perhaps a change in the National Lottery regulations, modest increases in opening hours and materials budgets, we could achieve a lot."
The association had a vision for the role of libraries in lifetime learning - as providers of learning resources of all kinds including access information technology networks, as remote delivery sites for courses provided by universities and colleges and interactive systems would enable learners to receive tutorial support. They were also the main source of information and advice on education, training and basic skills, he said.
Alan Wells, director of the Government-funded skills agency, said that although poor literacy and numeracy affected one in six or seven of the population, "We have to keep things in proportion. Most people are not illiterate or innumerate, but have a level of skill not good enough for the modern world . . . they have reduced opportunities."
Breaking the cycle of failure was the key to success he said. The agency's family literacy project -commended in a report to be published next week by the National Foundation for Educational Research - is an example of a successful strategy, he added.