Major concerns over government inaction and lack of leadership

The following press release from UK public library campaigners highlights major concerns surrounding library cuts and the current inaction of the government and its partner organisations to address the issues or provide any leadership in this situation.

DANGER: 1,000 LIBRARIES TO CLOSE

That’s a full quarter of the total in England – all of them small
branches that cost peanuts to run, & are located where people need
them most.

HOW DO WE WORK OUT THIS FIGURE?
201 library service points were closed last year.
A further 336 are threatened with closure (to date) this year.
Arts Council England predicts a further cut of at least 40% by 2016.

WHY ISN’T THE GOVERNMENT TELLING YOU THIS?
These are figures you will not see on any official website or press
release. They are compiled by a librarian in his spare time* from
local press reports.

That’s just one example of what is NOT being done by the bodies

responsible for public libraries – the government (DCMS, Department
for Culture, Media & Sport) and Arts Council England (ACE).

AND CLOSURES ARE NOT THE ONLY BAD NEWS
Many libraries have been dumped on to local communities, to run as
best they can.

Many more stay open under council control, but are losing books,
opening hours and skilled staff.

CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS?
Yet, say library campaigners, the government simply denies there is
any problem. It points to a handful of new library openings, as if
these compensate for mass closures and downgrading.
It ignores all evidence presented to it.
Even worse, it has powers to help – but chooses to do nothing.

WHAT’S REALLY HAPPENING
Many campaign groups and hundreds of reports in local media show that
the real situation is bleak. Check the website for yourself*.
For instance….
= Lincolnshire plans that 32 of its 45 libraries, plus an unspecified
number of mobile units, will either close or be passed on to
volunteers. That means losing 170 highly-trained staff (55 FTE) and
177 public access computers.
= Herefordshire decided to close ALL except its one central library –
and is now dealing with a huge outcry from the public.
These are only the latest to see their library service dismantled.
Mass closures have already taken place, from Newcastle to the Isle of
Wight, Gloucestershire to Brent. And about 3,000 professional
librarians have already lost their jobs.

QUOTE
Library campaigner Shirley Burnham says: ‘The Minister, Ed Vaizey, was
vociferous in defence of libraries when in Opposition. But he has
been frozen into inaction since coming into office.
‘He and his officials are in denial, muttering “What crisis?” as
hundreds of libraries are closed, or the keys handed to volunteers –
with no support.’

QUOTE
The Library Campaign is the national group for library users.
Laura Swaffield, its chair, says: ‘Library users have appealed time
and again to the minister to intervene against mass closures. He has a
legal duty to “superintend and improve” the service**. But he does
nothing.
‘And he does nothing about libraries that stay open but now provide a
far worse service. Scotland and Wales have national minimum standards,
but not England.
‘Finally, many communities are now trying to run their own libraries,
as the only way to save them. They get no national help or advice. Not
from the government, not from Arts Council England (ACE).’
At the recent Library Campaign conference in London, Jim Brooks of the
Little Chalfont volunteer-run library in Buckinghamshire reported that
130 volunteer groups have found their way to him, desperate for help.
Laura says: ‘Jim is the only national resource giving advice. It’s absurd!’

FUTURE? WHAT FUTURE?
Brian Ashley, who holds the libraries portfolio for ACE, admitted at
the Library Campaign meeting that libraries face a further 40% cut in
funding. But ACE has no shared plan to help local authorities manage
their resources – or focus on users’ needs.
At most risk are rural
areas and deprived urban areas. If a local library closes, travel to
another one is difficult and expensive. And few have the time, money
or skills to take it over themselves.
Yet libraries offer a lifeline to many people in need – especially to
those with no internet access, families with small children, those in
education and older people. Libraries are the last refuge of a
civilised society and cost next to nothing.

WHITEHALL FARCE
The government’s refusal to intervene verges on the farcical. Bolton
campaigner, retired solicitor Geof Dron, says: ‘The council did not
believe volunteer-run libraries would be sustainable, and simply
closed five libraries.
‘Local campaigners and the Civic Trust asked the Minister to use his
legal powers (ii) to intervene. First his officials lost part of our
submission. Then they refused even to meet with us.
‘The Minister, from the comfort of his Whitehall office, has refused
our request for an inquiry. He expresses no interest in the needs of
the young, the elderly and the disadvantaged of Bolton for literacy,
education and access to computers. He is not prepared even to talk to
us.’

WHAT’S MISSING?
At the same time, many libraries still under local authority control
have lost much of their bookstock, professional expertise and ethos as
cost-free, neutral places of study, reading for pleasure and access to
information (both physical and digital). 
A multiplicity of
consultancy studies and official reports are gathering dust in
Whitehall.
What is missing, however, is any plan by government or its partners to
address the issues or to provide an iota of leadership.
This is despite pleas by the All Party Parliamentary Group, senior
politicians and the professional bodies that represent librarians. As
a speaker at the recent Society of Chief Librarians’ conference said,
the Minister ‘needs to smell the coffee’.

WHAT’S NEEDED?
Campaigners say that much can – and should – be done to halt the
hollowing out or collapse of public libraries. Destroying libraries
signifies incompetence, not necessity.
Notably, a handful of local authorities are protecting or even
enhancing provision under the same economic constraints as others. The
DCMS ignores this evidence of best practice and refuses to contemplate
national standards for libraries, a postcode lottery of service
provision is inevitable. The minister (or ACE) should find out what
works, where and in what circumstances, and use his powers.

DIVIDENDS
Other countries are investing in libraries – from Australia and New
Zealand to China and South Korea.
A high quality public library service that serves the common good and
underpins the nation’s literacy will, campaigners insist, reap
dividends for the national economy.

But only if those responsible for libraries take their heads out of the sand.

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www.publiclibrariesnews.com gives a daily breakdown of news reports,
and summaries by local authority area.
No official source does anything like this.

** The Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964 makes it a legal duty for
every council to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library
service. The Secretary of State at the DCMS has a legal duty to
‘superintend and improve’ this service – and legal powers to intervene
if council libraries are failing.

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