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‘Boris, you’re plain wrong, public libraries are a statutory service’ – an open letter from CILIP CEO Annie Mauger

We are pleased to share this open letter from CILIP CEO Annie Mauger to Boris Johnson, Mayor of London.

An open letter to Boris Johnson, Mayor of London

Dear Boris

As a well-educated man who enjoys delivering a well-crafted phrase I know you understand how a love of reading and learning can transform someone’s life. It is clear, however, that you do not understand that public libraries are a statutory service and, greatly to their credit, it was a Conservative government that made them so.

In an article in the Sunday Telegraph you said:

“…there is no statutory obligation to provide a library service, but there is plenty of ill-thought-out legislation about equalities and heaven knows what, emanating from Westminster, imposed from Whitehall and slavishly obeyed by local authorities. Councils are not obliged to have libraries…”

Sorry Boris, but this is just plain wrong. Under the Public Libraries and Museums Act (1964) local authorities are required by statute to provide a public library service which is comprehensive and efficient, and available to all who wish to use it.

Public libraries make a huge contribution to society; children that use public libraries are twice as likely to be above average readers; they help the 5.2 million adults who struggle with reading and writing; they are a lifeline to so many older people; and are at the heart of many communities.

At a time when many local authorities are making cuts to library services, going around saying authorities do not have a statutory obligation to provide public libraries when they do is breathtakingly irresponsible.

I am happy to meet you and talk about how we can best support our libraries through tough economic times. You can find out what makes a good library service at

Yours sincerely

Annie Mauger
Chief Executive
The Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals

‘The library was the extra treat in my life of reading’ – Robin Ince

Robin InceRobin Ince is an award-winning stand-up comedian, actor and writer, perhaps best known as co-host of Radio 4’s ‘The Infinite Monkey Cage’ and writer of Robin Ince’s Bad Book Club. We are delighted that he’s joining in the fight to save public libraries, and has written an exclusive guest blog post for Voices for the Library.

My first library memory involves the mobile one that would come to the Hertfordshire village where I spent my childhood. It is one of those nice little villages that looks like the sort of place you’d see John Nettles investigating a bell ringer’s assassination in Midsomer Murders. The strides up those three steps seemed enormous to my five year old legs, but the effort was worth experiencing the splendor within. I have a misted memory of the children’s books I borrowed, but the first clear recollection was when I was six and decided to borrow a book on Adolph Hitler. Now I have no idea why the scab-kneed boy felt he should have a date stamped in this particular book. I think I wanted it because I thought it would make people feel I was grown up, as many children with a mother’s spit smeared parting wish they were. I lied to my grandmother and told her that I had read the book and that it was historical fact that Hitler had never been observed smiling.

As I grew up I spent more time in the less mobile local library of Chorleywood. I would walk through the door, past the old men in uncomfortable comfortable chairs reading newspapers, straight to the children’s section. Every Saturday I hoped to find that The Making of Doctor Who was back on the shelf. Every week I had missed it again, another week unable to read about Celestial toymakers and Brigadier Letherbridge Stewart. I found solace in the Usborne books of Ancient Greek or Roman life, and a few months later I dipped into Red Rackham’s Treasure and reveled in the furious and imaginative expletives of Captain Haddock. Eventually the librarian kindly got hold of the Doctor Who book via a loan from Hitchin.

University was the location of my only library crime. I had presumed that my O level pass note cramming on Thomases Hardy and More might lead to a poor degree result. I knew that you were not given your results until all library books were returned, so I retained the two musty copies of John Donne critique from the 19th century and feigned innocence when my parents asked when my results might turn up. Eventually I knew students would be unable to intellectually thrive without a couple of texts from 1873, so returned them and received my certificate. I praised the O level passbooks excellence and questioned a system that allowed a scurrilous shirker like me to receive a certificate.

The monotony of cashless days living in London and counting chilblains in a ten bedroom, one gas fire Victorian pile was broken up by borrowing books on serial killers and sexual outsiders by Colin Wilson. On top of that there was the occasional VHS rental of a foreign film I thought might make me a better human being after reading too much about human mince in Hornsey drains.

Now I sit with my three year old under cats in hats and Charlie and Lolas as we frantically debate which eight books will make it into this week’s basket (eight books? Poor me, I was only allowed to borrow four). I am happy to say he is going through the Anthony Browne phase of charming simian picture books and the talking dinosaurs may well be next. The excitement of the library visit and the brevity of the tenure somehow makes the library books even more precious to him than those he actually owns.

That is my truncated library life so far, the story obviously doesn’t end there. I turn in my library card on the day of my death, hopefully with no overdue fees that will make my estate a messy affair to manage for my relatives that live on.

I am lucky. I was brought up in a house full of books. The library was the extra treat in my life of reading. Perhaps it was those additional books that helped encourage my myopia due to the extra hours required to read books under the bed cover. I know many people whose only access to books was at the local library. For some, it was the only access to another world away from being the school outsider. What world is it if those doors of escape, of self-improvement, of joy are shut due to budget cuts. The budget cuts of these “we’re all in it together” days. Don’t worry, because we’re all in together I am sure your nearest hedge fund manager or bank high flyer will let you pop into their house and read their books. They might even let you use their internet too. Isn’t that big society?

As a teenager I remember the agony when watching a Twilight Zone episode starring Burgess Meredith as a cursed bookworm. Criticised for spending too much time reading, a bibliophile bank clerk returns from a book break in the safe to discover humanity has been destroyed. He is not too bothered and sets about putting the library in order ready to spend the rest of his life reading. Just as he has finished his cataloguing and is about to start his reading, the spectacles slip from his nose and smash on the ground beneath. Any avid reader can feel his agony.

For Burgess Meredith, it took Armageddon and some clumsy spectacle shenanigams to put him in a world without reading. If we are not vigilant, it will just take a few budget cuts to put thousands into a world where books are increasingly an unreachable luxury.

‘Keep our libraries open!’ Support from Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo

Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo, lends her support to those raising awareness of the social value of public libraries.Julia Donaldson

Julia Donaldson is one of the U.K’s best-selling authors. Her most famous creation, The Gruffalo, has not only sold millions of books worldwide, but as an animated film is becoming a family favourite at Christmas time with the voices of Robbie Coltrane as the Gruffalo. The Gruffalo was recently chosen as the favourite book amongst parents and children by a survey from the free reading scheme – ‘Booktime’. It was also voted the nation’s favourite bedtime story by BBC Radio 2 listeners. More locally, she is regular and popular visitor to The Cheltenham Literature Festival, where many Gloucestershire schoolchildren have seen her perform from her wide range of books from Room on the Broom to The Snail and the Whale.

Julia has lent her support to those campaigning to raise awareness of the value of public libraries, particularly for parents and children, and during times of economic crisis:

“I think it is very short-sighted to close libraries, especially because that is where a lot of children gain and develop a love of books and reading and can extend their repertoire. Sometimes governments and local authorities seem to forget that children are the adults of the future. I used to love going to my local library as a child, and quite possibly if it hadn’t been for my excellent librarian who introduced me to a wide range of books I wouldn’t be an author today. (After 50 years I am now back in touch with that librarian.) My own children also used to enjoy their jaunts to the library, and when they were small it was the main way they and I found out and sampled the wide range of books which are out there but which are not always evident in bookshops with their 3-for-2 policies. In any case, with so many bookshops closing, there is even more of a need for libraries. What’s more, many libraries are venues for mother-and-toddler rhymetime sessions and the like, so their closure would be a big blow to those children, parents and carers. Maybe the thinking is that it’s an easy way to save money, but I don’t believe that’s the case, as a less literate population will be one with more crime, social problems and all the attendant costs. So keep our libraries open!

Best wishes


Many many thanks to Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries for passing on this contribution to the library-cause!