As a representative from Voices For The Library I was fortunate to be part of that delegation, and along with Julia Donaldson, author and Campaign For The Book founder, Alan Gibbons, and Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries campaigner, John Holland, we met with Ed Vaizey – arranged through MP Jo Swinson (MP for Julia Donaldson’s constituency).
The four delegates were given an opportunity to present our views to Ed Vaizey with regard to the current situation in UK public libraries. We had just under 20 minutes for all of our presentations.
Julia Donaldson focused on the importance of public libraries for children and the benefits of having both librarians and good stock in providing a good library service.
Alan Gibbons highlighted the lack of intervention by the Government in local library closures decisions and asked what it would take for Ed Vaizey or Jeremy Hunt to intervene?
John Holland covered the situation in Gloucestershire Libraries and the lack of response by Ed Vaizey, The Secretary of State, and the DCMS to Gloucestershire campaigners requests and questions about the cuts and closures.
I focused on the national perspective and the fact that those deciding the fate of our libraries don’t appear to understand the value and importance of them.
Following on from this, we had between 25-30 minutes, in which Ed Vaizey responded to some of our concerns and discussed both national and local situations with us.
From my perspective, the key points in Ed Vaizey’s response/discussion were:
- He doesn’t agree that library services are being decimated.
- He has challenged library closures in the past, but has also supported closures of some libraries.
- He felt it was up to the local authority to run library services, not his department.
- The Government have no intention of removing statutory duties.
- Community/volunteer run libraries have a place in the provision of local library services.
- He acknowledged that some volunteer run libraries would be outside of a local authorities’ statutory service.
- Local authorities could provide “cut-price libraries” – every library in a local authority shouldn’t be all singing, all dancing.
- The comprehensive and efficient aspects of a local authorities duties should be focused on the way they were interpreted in the 1964 Public Libraries & Museums Act. “Comprehensive” equates to stock; “Efficient” equates to reduction of 400+ local library authorities. The 1964 Act did not focus on buildings.
- He felt that the situations that led to Judicial Review’s in Brent, Gloucestershire, Somerset & Surrey recently were not linked directly to the need for intervention by The Secretary of State in a local situation and, using his skills as a barrister, he argued a fine line in how these two situations do not overlap.
- There was no plan to re-introduce library standards. However, this didn’t necessarily mean that they were out of the question.
It was agreed by all that it would be of benefit if examples of best practice for public libraries plans could be formulated, so that at least some guidance could be given to local authorities. Ed Vaizey pointed out that the Charteris Report (Wirral Inquiry) was seen as a good example of best practice, but as the delegates highlighted this was not a legally binding document, so did not need to be adhered to by local authorities when looking at library services.
I should also mention that there wasn’t a single mention of the Future Libraries Programme… A flagship programme for libraries up until last year! How should we interpret this?