Author Archives: Voices for the Library

My lifelong love of libraries – Brian’s Story

I was seven years old when I began my lifelong love of libraries. I loved reading and there just weren’t enough books around to satisfy my appetite. I’d got through the school reading programme and was able to choose which book I wanted but the choice was limited. Lots of ‘easy’ versions of classic books such as ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Kidnapped’ – books that had been written a hundred years or so ago, but I wanted books that were about children in today’s world, books I could identify with and engage with.

I read and read and read, beside the fire on cold winter evenings and under the bedclothes at night when I should have been going to sleep. Books hooked me, I always had my nose in a book. However boring life was, a book could lead me away from everyday life and into fantasy worlds that would excite and inspire me. To my mind, a book was a ticket to an adventure, and that’s something I’m always speaking about to the children I meet. One day my Mum took me along to the library and showed me the children’s section. There were shelves full of books by Enid Blyton that I’d never read. I joined Ramsgate library at that point and I’ve been a library member somewhere or other ever since. I carried home two books that day and two days later I’d read them both. Back we went for two more. At least twice a week I took books out of the library. Once I’d finished with Enid Blyton, there was Jennings, and his friend Darbishire, in a series of books by another wonderful writer called Anthony Buckeridge. They were set in a boys’ prep school and I was captured from the first one.The books were funny and Jennings was always in trouble, particularly with his form teacher Mr. Wilkins who was a man with little patience and a fiery temper.
I roamed the woods and built camps with ‘Just William’ and the Outlaws, Henry, Ginger & Douglas. The books by Richmal Crompton were wonderful. It was a boy’s world that she described although the gang were often bothered by Violet Elizabeth Bott who demanded that she played with them otherwise she would, “Thcream and thcream ’till I’m thick”.
 ( No, that’s not spelling mistakes, it’s how Crompton wrote it in the books!)

I then read the Billy Bunter stories written by Frank Richards.These were set at Greyfriars School where Bunter was a pupil. Bunter was an unlikely hero in that he was ‘stout’ deceitful, lazy and a glutton for food. He would do anything he could to find food even if it meant helping himself to his classmates’ cakes and sweets. Often this would result in him receiving ‘a good kicking’ once his crimes were discovered.
After I’d devoured all the Billy Bunter books that the library had to offer, I discovered the Biggles books by Capt. W.E.Johns. These were originally written for an older audience but appealed very much to young boys. Biggles was a fictional pilot who had flown in World War 1 and in the years that followed the war. Longing for such adventures ourselves, we would imagine ourselves sitting alongside Biggles in the cockpit of his plane while he shot down German air aces in the war, or battled criminals around the world.
In the late 1950s, there was also a library in Boots the Chemist, and I joined this too as they seemed to have different Biggles books to the ones I found in the Public Library. Odd to think that once Boots had a library when we think about the shop today.

There were very few ‘Young Adult’ books around when I became a teenager and by the age of 14 I was reading books from the adult library. I think I should have been 16 to enroll but the library staff knew me from my regular visits, and with my Mum’s permission, I was able to start a whole new reading adventure. There was a little guidance from the librarians but very quickly I was out on my own and the library became a treasure chest for me to explore and sometimes find a gem. I read all the Sherlock Holmes books, and later, on James Bond, although my Dad rather disapproved of the Bond books!

It dismays me these days to hear of so many libraries all across the country being closed down by councils. Do they have any idea how important libraries have been and still are? Ramsgate library suffered a fire a few years ago but has now been rebuilt and looks stunning. Sometimes I go back to Ramsgate to tend my parents’ grave and I always call in at the library to take a look around and to remember that it made me a reader for life. I owe that library a huge debt of gratitude.

(Originally posted on Brian’s blog. Shared with permission of the author.)

Samuel West – “I’ve always loved libraries”

Image c/o Garry Knight on Flickr (cc-by)

I’ve always loved libraries, since I was an avid child reader – see this. Now we have a daughter and consequently space is at a premium I value my local for two new reasons:

1) When I’m preparing for a role or a production I can work there in complete silence, among others doing the same (ours has a reference section with a quiet room).

2) Our daughter is getting through picture books at an incredible rate. We couldn’t possibly afford to buy or have room to shelve new ones as fast as she wants them; borrowing them lets us try lots out (and then perhaps buy a few favourites to keep). Plus the libraries’ range of picture books is chosen by people who know their stuff, so we know we’re starting with a great selection.

Samuel West
Actor and director

Statement on Manchester City Council

Voices for the Library are appalled by reports that Manchester City Council have banned homeless people from using the city’s main public library. This move by the Council is contrary to everything a public library service stands for and undermines much of the good work library services do in making libraries inclusive places where all are welcome to access information without fear of discrimination.

According to one witness, as reported by The Guardian:

“G4S, acting on the instructions of Manchester city council, are denying access to the public library based on their profiling of homeless people. This type of exclusion is a breach of human rights and is discrimination against vulnerable members of our society.”

If true, and we have no cause to believe that it is not, this is a very disturbing and destructive move by the Council and we urge them to end this vicious and discriminatory ban.

Public libraries offer a service to everyone, without discrimination. This is a fundamental principle of a public library service. Manchester’s abandonment of this principle is a shocking betrayal of this principle. We urge Manchester City Council to not only rescind its ban on the homeless, but to work with them and repair the untold damage this move has caused.

This is not what public libraries are about. Manchester City Council should be ashamed.

General Election 2015 – Vote Libraries!

We all know how badly our libraries have been hit over the past five years, the extent to which cuts from central government have hurt our public library service. This election is vital on so many levels and, of course, it provides an opportunity to hold our elected politicians to account for their actions over the course of the last parliament.

Candidates will be going door-to-door over the next few weeks and we think the cuts to public libraries should be one of the issues that canvassers are confronted with on the door step. It is for this reason that we have created two posters for you to post in your windows to highlight the importance of public libraries both to the politicians out canvassing for your vote and to your friends and neighbours.

If you do speak to someone asking you to vote for them, why not refer to our manifesto (created as a result of conversation with all of our followers), or explain to them what librarians do and why they shouldn’t be replaced with volunteers or quote one of our stories to them (or tell them one of your own). The general election provides a unique and rare opportunity to speak face-to-face with politicians desperate for our vote, let’s not waste the opportunity to speak up for libraries!

You can download the posters below by clicking on the images (why not download and print them in your local public library!?).

Photo 15-04-2015 23 38 49 Photo 15-04-2015 23 37 21

(Both files are PDF 163kb)

Many thanks to the Open Rights Group for letting us steal their idea! Find out more about their campaign here.

Send a letter to your local MP

Image c/o Sarah Price on Flickr.

We’ve often been asked if we have a template letter that people can send to their local MP, or if we can point to somewhere that does. With the general election coming up and the likely outcome being further cuts to public services (with libraries undoubtedly bearing the brunt of the cuts once more), we thought it was about time we put a template letter on the site that you can use.

The letter is designed to be sent to MPs and whilst they are not directly accountable for libraries within their constituencies, we think it is important that pressure is applied to central government as both the lack of will to intervene in library closures and the likely cuts to the local government grant in the next parliament will push the library service to breaking point. Without government intervention or a reversal of the cuts programme, we could be left with a threadbare, inefficient and sub-standard public library service that is not fit for purpose.

Template letters work best if they are personalised. If you can add in details about your local situation, then do so. The impact will be greater if it is personalised rather than sent as a generic letter/email.

You can view and download a copy of the template on this page. It’s also worth looking at this in conjunction with our manifesto, which is available here.

We want to hear your voices for libraries!

Image c/o Martin on Flickr.

We are delighted to learn that the Mirror is supporting our campaign to highlight the importance of our public library network. Whilst the situation has been bleak for sometime, the picture looks set to get worse, with further spending cuts due from central government putting the squeeze on already tight local authority budgets.

Over three hundred libraries have closed since 2009/10. Further cuts to services could result in up to 1000 libraries being lost in the next five years. This decline in libraries results in a self-fulfilling prophecy; as libraries are cut or closed altogether, so decline the number of visitors to our libraries which is then used as an excuse for further closures. It is a death spiral that we can only escape by stopping the cuts and increasing library funding.

Libraries play a crucial role for many in levelling the playing field. They help develop children’s literacy skills and ensures they are not left behind; ensure those without internet access (over 6m people in the UK) can get online, access vital government services and seek employment; provides a safe neutral space free from commercial influences and provide free access to information for all.

We know that those who use the service understand why this statutory service must be protected. We want to hear from all of those who use their local library every day, from those who benefit from the services they provide, from those whose lives have been changed because libraries offered them something that would otherwise be out of reach. This website aims to highlight all your stories, providing evidence of the continued importance of the library service to so many in our communities.

We want to hear from you. If you’ve got a story to tell, if you want to share your experiences of public libraries or tell the world how your public library inspires you, drop us a line!  Our contact details are available here, we look forward to hearing from you!

Let’s hear your voices for the library!

 

A stark warning about the future for public libraries

The release of the Sieghart report the day before the Christmas recess speaks volumes about how this government views the public library system. It is viewed by ministers as an irrelevance, as a service that provides no ‘value’ (mainly because it is not income generating). Of course, to the millions of people who rely on their public library service, they provide a valuable and highly treasured public service.

For the children needing extra support developing their literacy skills, libraries help them, to realise their potential and give them hope of a better future.

For the elderly who find themselves lacking the skills and ability to get online, libraries help them connect with their families and learn valuable new skills.

For the unemployed, demonised by the government and told to “get a job” using online services they often do not have access to, they offer the glimmer of hope that they can get a job that offers them dignity and security.

For society in general, they offer a space that is free from commercial influence. A space where they can escape from the constant pressure to buy buy buy. They can relax secure in the knowledge that the space is theirs, not that of a private company that sees them as pound signs walking through the door rather than citizens.

And yet, the future is bleak. Under the current government we have seen the rapid decline of our library service. And there is worse to come. A government who argues that everyone should have the opportunity to get on in life is pulling the ladder away from those who need it most. What hope to join the ranks of hard-working families if the mechanisms to get you there are no longer available?

What is clear is that a Conservative government in the next parliament would be a disaster for the public library service. With cuts returning spending to 1930s levels, local authorities will be under even greater pressure, resulting in services being outsourced or abandoned altogether. It is clear that the government either do not care, or view this as part of their long-term strategy. The release of this report now demonstrates how little they care about what happens to our public library network.

It is up to all of us, librarians and library workers, library users, professional bodies, trade unions, writers, to keep the pressure up on our elected officials. We understand the difference library services make. We understand how they provide opportunities for those cast adrift. We understand that for the isolated, the left behind and the cast aside, public libraries provide the chance to help them grasp the opportunities that so many of us take for granted. We understand that our cultural life is much diminished with a weakened public library network. We understand that they do have value. We need to remind our elected representatives of this every single day. We must not let them get away with the ultimate destruction of a valuable and cherished public service that levels the playing field and enables opportunity for all.

What is the value of the Imperial War Museum’s Library?

The Imperial War Museum (image c/o on Flickr).

Are libraries an important resource in large national museums? The recent news that the Imperial War Museum (IWM) plans to close their Library and dispose of the Library collection, suggests that libraries are no longer perceived to be of value to museums. Historically libraries were considered an essential part of the Victorian museum. But do shrinking budgets and resulting cuts spell the end for the museum library? With huge advances in technology widening access to information do museums believe the misconception that all information can now be found on Wikipedia? Are the days of the National Art Library, Caird Library and Natural History Museum Library also numbered? What is the value of a Museum Library in the 21st Century?

The core role of the museum library has remained fairly constant since the 19th century. Its primary purpose can be seen as providing information about the objects held in the Museum. An object is of little value unless something is known about its context, its relevance, its story. But the items held in the library also have a further value as objects in their own right. When you visit IWM, you will see items from the Library collection on display in exhibitions across the Museum’s sites. The IWM Library collection is not discreet from the Museum’s wider collections. The Library’s printed holdings form part of the Museum’s core collection, with printed material collected alongside the objects, art, film, photographs, documents and oral history recordings held by the Museum’s six other collecting departments.

The IWM was established in 1917 out of a desire to record and remember the Great War, which at that date was, of course, still being fought. The intention was never to create a military museum.  The address to the King from the Committee of the IWM at the opening of the Museum declared it was, “not a monument of military glory, but a record of toil and sacrifice”*.

To this end the Committee set about actively collecting material that illustrated the toil and sacrifice of the people of Britain and the Commonwealth. War literature was preserved; regimental magazines, maps, music, letters, stamps, posters, propaganda leaflets and souvenirs. As the war continued, material produced by the Government printers, including war books, Army lists, proclamations, orders and regulations, were added to the collection too. The original collections of the Museum were not therefore iconic objects, not the Spitfire or V-1 flying bomb which visitors will find dramatically suspended above them in the atrium upon entering IWM London today. Much of the original collection consisted of war literature, printed material and ephemera – collections now held by the Library.

The Library gives ordinary people access to research materials on all aspects of British and Commonwealth involvement in conflict since 1914. The collection includes regimental and unit histories, technical manuals, newspapers, trench journals, biographies, autobiographies, Army, Navy and Air Force lists, propaganda leaflets, ephemera, pamphlets and publications on the military, economic, social and cultural aspects of war.

The collection today results from the active collecting of printed material related to conflict and its impact over a period of almost 100 years – 97 years and 8 months to be exact! The Library acquired its first printed item in April 1917, a programme of the pantomime ‘Dick Whittington’, staged by the 85th Field Ambulance in Salonika. The Museum’s first annual report shows the Library acquired in excess of 7000 items in 1917 alone, of which 5000 were donations. Contemporary material published during subsequent conflicts, including the Falklands War, Gulf War and Afghanistan, has been added to the collection at the time of these conflicts. A clearly defined remit and collecting policy ensure a comprehensive collection of printed material is acquired. The holdings of the Library are estimated to be in excess of 320,000 items and part of the Library’s value stems from the depth of its coverage and from the completeness of the collections, for example in the holdings of published regimental and unit histories.

Some of the holdings of the IWM Library are rare, some are unique, some are valuable. But much of the Library collection is not – overall the value of the Library stems from the collection as a whole, and from the information these printed sources provide. An idea of the Library collection is provided by the online catalogue: http://bit.do/LibCat and you can explore some printed items on this IWM website, which was created for the First World War 90th Anniversary in 2008:

http://archive.iwm.org.uk/upload/package/95/collections/printed-books/printed-books.html.

The Library at IWM is a resource for museum staff, used for example when researching a new acquisition or when preparing an exhibition. A reference library, it offers borrowing right to Museum staff only (so long as material remains on site) as access to printed sources is essential to maintain the standard of information presented in the Museum. A library enables curators to gain a better understanding of a museum’s collection and a deeper knowledge of their subject.

The Library is also indisputably the most public-facing collecting department at IWM, used extensively by the Museum’s visitors. Library staff assist visitors in the ‘Explore History’ Centre and the Research Room, respond to written enquiries via the Collections Enquiry Service and manage the telephone enquiry service. Explore History opened in May 2010 with the intention of revolutionising access to the Museum’s collections, much of which – as is the case in most museums – is held in storage rather than on display. In the press release the Imperial War Museum proclaimed it was, “An innovative project which will see visitors get up close and personal with the past thanks to improved access to our Collections”. Explore History is accessed directly and freely from the museum, and here, with assistance from Library staff if necessary, visitors have the opportunity to delve further into the Museum’s collections, accessing digitised sound, film, photo and art collections.

Explore History is an extension of the Museum’s galleries with professional, qualified Library staff able to respond to queries, which may have been raised by a particular topic or item on display, using a printed reference collection. An individual who lived through the blitz of the Second World War may have memories jogged by items on display in the museum. Perhaps a gas mask. Perhaps a recollection of how she hated wearing her mask because of the smell, or the way the strap chaffed her ears. And then a memory of a particular experience – of a night when she had stayed in the cinema after the air raid siren sounded, of how her worried father had been out searching the streets, of the devastation that night’s bombing had brought. With her appetite whetted, Explore History, Library staff and the printed collections can provide more detailed information about the bombing raid which she remembers. She might be shown the, Blitz then and now volumes,which provide a day-by-day account of the Blitz. This publication is not rare, or valuable. It isn’t a primary source. But it’s a source of information, and it is the location of the book – available to be consulted in the Museum – which is key to its value to this individual. The museum visitor may then listen to an interview with someone who also experienced the bombing from the Museum’s oral history collections, or look at the details of those who died in that raid on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, or in the printed memorial volumes, which are also held in Explore History.

While collections held at the British Library, or at an academic Library, may be ‘accessible to all’, they are only truly accessible to ‘all researchers’. All individuals with a clear idea of what they wish to research, what material they wish to see, and a reader’s ticket to enable them to consult this. Collections at IWM are accessible to a wider audience; the museum visitor, the casual enquirer. The individual who may well go on to become a researcher or family historian but who is not yet at the stage of knowing what they are looking for.

Library staff direct visitors to other sources of information, including Museum collections, further published Library material and/or records held by other organisations, and Explore History acts as the first step into research for many Museum visitors. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most common enquiry is how to start tracing a relative’s war service. In assisting individuals’ with research into their own relatives’ experiences of conflict, the Library staff help honour an original aim of IWM: remembering the sacrifice of everyone who took part in the First World War. And the Library services and collections are well used; in 2013/4 55,000 individuals visited ‘Explore History’ and the enquiry service handled over 22,000 remote enquiries.

A further 3,600 individuals undertook in-depth research in the adjacent Research Room, where the Library’s collection can be accessed along with the unpublished diaries, letters and memoirs held by the Documents department. The Library collection gains value from being housed and consulted alongside museum collections. Indeed the printed collection is essential for the context it adds to other collections within the Museum. An excellent example of this can be seen when consulting postcards sent home from the trenches by a soldier during the First World War. A fantastic and moving source, sometimes made all the more moving by their upbeat tone. The soldier cannot provide details of the action in which he is involved in mail sent home, and would often also wish to shield his mother, wife or children from the horror he was experiencing. Therefore in order to discover in which action the individual served, and to gain a true picture of their experience, this item needs to be examined alongside printed material, including campaign and unit histories.

The IWM propose closing ‘Explore History’, closing IWM Library, disposing of printed collections and cutting experienced, professional Library staff. This would severely reduce public access to museum collections and to sources of information, knowledge and learning. This would lead to the loss of a unique national reference library on twentieth and twenty-first-century conflict. It would leave a Research Room with no printed collection. The Imperial War Museum is an international centre for study and research, but without a Library would it continue to be so…?

Individuals can help save this unique and valuable collection and ensure it remains accessible and held at the Imperial War Museum. Please sign the petition: bit.ly/save_IWM  and read the ‘Petition Update’ of 27 November 2014 for further ways to support the campaign to save the IWM Library.

Article by Librarian and Imperial War Museum supporter

* As reported in The Times, 10th June 1920, Page 11, Column D

Happy Birthday Public Libraries and Museums Act

The following post was contributed by Professor Charles Oppenheim, formerly Professor of Information Science at Loughborough University.

It’s now 50 years since this key piece of legislation became law! In my view, it is high time it was updated to reflect the technologies that have now become pervasive in public libraries, especially, of course the Internet, but also to give the Act teeth. It has in theory some teeth, but in practice the teeth rarely bite. I am referring to the power of the Secretary of State to intervene in cases where the duty of every library authority to “provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof” is not being provided. This is enshrined in section 10 of the Act:

10
Default powers of Secretary of State.

(1)

If—

(a)

a complaint is made to the Secretary of State that any library authority has failed to carry out duties relating to the public library service imposed on it by or under this Act; or

(b)

the Secretary of State is of opinion that an investigation should be made as to whether any such failure by a library authority has occurred,

and, after causing a local enquiry to be held into the matter, the Secretary of State is satisfied that there has been such a failure by the library authority, he may make an order declaring it to be in default and directing it for the purpose of removing the default to carry out such of its duties, in such manner and within such time, as may be specified in the order.

The clear implication of this is that if ANY complaint is made, whether by an individual, a group of people, or an organisation, that the Secretary of State shall cause a “local enquiry” to be held. Yet in practice, the Secretaries of State over the years have rarely exercised their powers under the Act, even when pressed to do so by campaigners. A typical example is the recent proposed restructuring of Lincolnshire Public Library services, where campaigners had to take the matter to Courts rather than asking the Secretary of State to intervene .

So why is this important? Because in recent years, the question of online access to information for educational, social and recreational use for those without the resources or technology to set up networked computers at home, and do not have appropriate access at work or in educational establishments they belong to has become problematic. This is in part due to the trend towards having such information resources only available online (or if available in other formats, at high prices), whilst at the same time that public libraries are having their funds cut because of restrictions on local authority budgets imposed by central Government.

As a result, many public libraries are closing, have reduced hours, or are being handed over to volunteers to run. These volunteers are, almost by definition, unable to provide the level of commitment and service that paid professional staff used to do. They do not understand the subtleties and weaknesses of search engines and other popular Internet tools; they may well not know the most reliable sources for a particular query, and will not have the necessary reference interview skills to tease out what a patron really is after.

Looking at the combination of trends – reduced public library service provision combined with increasing dependence on online sources – it seems that we have a perfect storm approaching. A well-informed, socially and professionally engaged population is not just an ideal to strive for; it is necessary for the economic well-being of both the individuals and the country as a whole. A well-resourced, efficient and effective public library service with an emphasis on providing high quality information to all citizens in whatever format is appropriate for their needs is an essential component of today’s world. Right now, we should be investing heavily in public libraries to develop and enhance their role, not cutting back on them. Furthermore, token gestures such as the recently launched Access to Research are just that – token gestures. The initiative does not cover all public libraries, and the restrictive terms and conditions imposed on users of the service make it virtually useless. We need to address the fundamental problem.

I believe it is time to revisit the 50 year-old Act to make it more relevant to 21st century conditions and priorities. In particular, the obligations on the library authorities for a comprehensive and efficient service should make it explicit that this must include reasonable free of charge provision to networked information services, and the obligations on the Secretary of State to investigate complaints should require them to justify why they won’t investigate, and require them to investigate whether they like it or not when more than a certain percentage (10%) of taxpayers in a particular library authority request an investigation. It should also oblige the Secretary of State to include at least one local user of library services in any investigation team that is set up. Finally, if the Secretary of State refuses to hold an inquiry following a complaint, that refusal should be subject to review by an independent body.

One final thought. The response of the main professional body representing librarians (CILIP) to these issues has been muted. This is in part because of its charitable status, which prevents it from engaging in explicitly political lobbying. CILIP’s timidity in the face of a direct assault on its members is not surprising bearing in mind its long history of lack of backbone when faced with political challenges, but is still extremely disappointing. High time for a change in approach. Instead of being so risk-averse, it should push the boundaries of political action. But I am sure that plea will fall on deaf ears.

i. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1964/75
ii. http://savelincslibraries.org.uk/2014/07/18/high-court-quashes-decision-of-lincolnshire-county-council-to-close-libraries/
iii. http://www.accesstoresearch.org.uk

The 1964 Act: a missed opportunity

The following post was contributed by David McMenemy, lecturer at the University of Strathclyde and author of The Public Library.

The 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act was an important piece of legislation because it attempted to provide a guarantee of sorts for citizens of England and Wales with regards to their library services.  As well as ensuring a minister of state had oversight over the service, and the authority and responsibility to intervene where authorities were seen to be failing, it also created advisory bodies to ensure that library strategy was not static.   Sadly it was also a majorly flawed piece of legislation, lacking clarity in how it defined service levels, and vagueness in terms of how local authorities could be held to account over their managing of services.  These flaws have meant that the legislation has largely been toothless as a tool for defending public library services.

Of course the primary purpose of any Act of Parliament is to provide a legal safeguard; but what value has an Act where the only ability to see it utilised on behalf of citizens is at the whim of a minister of state?  Reticence to use the powers available to them is not a party political issue: in the 50 years the Act has existed the minister responsible has intervened only twice, once in 1991 in Derbyshire (under a Conservative administration), and once in 2009 in Wirral (under Labour).  The over-riding principle favoured by almost all ministers responsible was to trust the judgement of the local authorities as the people best placed to make local decisions for local people.  In an age of austerity it is not difficult to work out where such a mindset can lead.

The scope of any “outside interests” to intervene was clearly addressed in 1980 when the Library Association sought legal opinion on restructuring that was going in in Kingston upon Thames (Whiteman, 1986, p.155).  Informed that the concept of a “comprehensive and efficient” service had not been clearly enough defined, and that outside of the minister no one could use the Act to intervene, it was clear that the legislation was not quite the robust weapon against service decline that had once been hoped.

What could an Act with bite achieve?

In a short 2009 paper I reflected on the Wirral intervention and argued for a new Act to represent a modern library service (McMenemy, 2009).    Floating some ideas to the specific things an efficient Act might cover, I suggest it could:

  • define children’s services provision from point of view of professional staff per capita;
  • similarly, define ICT-based and reference services from the point of view of minimum levels of service provision per capita;
  • provide clear expectations of how regional agreements should work in terms of shared provision between library services across large regions; and
  • provide a clear definition of the process that must be gone through by a local authority if a public library is to be closed or merged, along with easy to understand guidance as to the rights of the community.

At the time, before the library closures really started to take bite, I believed these simple provisions could help provide a quality benchmark in several areas that if guaranteed nationally could ensure a more robust example of “comprehensive and efficient” than the 1964 Act.   The legal system is there to provide rights to citizens, and protect their interests.  An Act that can do neither of those things with any efficiency is, sadly, of limited purpose.

It would be churlish to suggest that the statement the Act sent out in 1964 was not a positive one; that the State thought public libraries to be so important that it believed each local authority should provide such a service, and that this provision would be superintended at national level.   Statements have limited shelf lives, however, and a 50 year old Act with limited powers that has rarely been used, has to be seen as largely a wasted opportunity.

References

McMenemy, D. (2009) “Public library closures in England – the need to Act?”  Library Review.  58 (8).  pp.557-560.

Whiteman, P. (1986) Public Libraries since 1945: the Impact of the McColvin Report.  London: Clive Bingley.