Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964

When deciding what changes to make to public libraries, local authorities are legally obliged to abide by the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. This Law means that public libraries are a statutory service; councils have a legal duty to provide them. Councils must ensure that the service they provide is “comprehensive and efficient”. They also have a duty to promote the service and to encourage people to use it. The Law also makes it clear that councils cannot charge people for library facilities that make up part of their statutory provision.

Local Councils

On a local level, a number of councils including are facing legal challenges because they appear to be in breach of the Public Libraries and Museums Act, as well as other laws including the Equality Act 2010. Gloucestershire County Council is the first council in the UK to have been issued with a High Court injunction preventing them from implementing any service reductions until the lawfulness of their planned cuts have been reviewed by the Court. Judicial Reviews will now take place to investigate Gloucestershire County Council and Brent’s plans to cut their library services. Isle of Wight Council also face a legal challenge. Our update about legal challenges from 7th July 2011 is here.

Councils have a responsibility to properly consider the changes they wish to make to their library services and must ensure that the review process is conducted appropriately. Voices for the Library member Lauren Smith recently made a Freedom of Information request to the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, a body which works to promote best practice in the UK’s museums, libraries and archives. The MLA will be abolished by March 2012 and responsibility for libraries will be transferred to Arts Council England (ACE) and its budget for libraries will be cut from £13 millon to £3 million. Lauren is part of the Save Doncaster Libraries campaign, which is opposing the council’s proposals to cease funding or close 14 out of the borough’s 26 libraries. The MLA have been advising Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council.  Please see the ‘Comprehensive and Efficient’ Checklist that the MLA recommended to DMBC.

National Government

If it looks like a council seeks to make changes to the library service that may be illegal, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Hunt, has a duty to intervene. Many people around the country have made requests for him to do so, but as yet, he has not stepped in. As a result, Alan Gibbons, an author and library campaigner who runs the Campaign for the Book, has launched a national legal challenge because he believes that national government have failed in their duty. Voices for the Library are helping to collect information for the case.

Review of Statutory Duties

The government have identified 1294 statutory duties that central government currently places on local authorities, the majority of which arise from primary legislation – and we are aware that at this stage it is not a complete list. They are inviting the public to comment on the duties and “to challenge government on those which you feel are burdensome or no longer needed”. Three of these duties relate to libraries. It is important for people to take part in the “informal consultation exercise”, which will remain open for six weeks, closing 25 April 2011. The link to the questionnaire is here. You will be asked to refer to reference numbers relating to specific duties. The duties relating to libraries are:


Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 Section 1(2)

Duty: To provide information and facilities for the inspection of library premises, stocks, records, as the Secretary of State requires.

Function: Necessary for Secretary of State to fulfil (requirement) to superintend library service (see s1 of PLAMA 1964)


Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 Section 7

Duty: To provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. In fulfilling this duty, must have particular regard to the matters in s7(2)

Function: Secure provision of local library services


Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 Section 11

Duty: Supplemental provisions as to transfers of officers, assets and liabilities

Function: Provisions provide, for example, continuity of employment for transferring employees. This secures consistency across library transfers etc and in line with other local authority employment legislation

Wirral Inquiry

The government has only conducted a formal public inquiry into a local council’s plans for library closures twice – once in Derbyshire in 1991, and in the Wirral in 2009.

The role of the inquiry was to:

Gather information and provide advice in order for the Secretary of State to assess whether, in taking the decision to implement the proposed changes to their library service, The Wirral is in default of their statutory duties under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, including the provision of a comprehensive and efficient library service. (DCMS)

We have further information about the Wirral Inquiry.

It was found that if Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council went ahead with its proposals to close 11 of its libraries, it would be in breach of the Public Libraries and Museums Act and the council withdrew its proposals. You can read the final report from the DCMS here.

15 thoughts on “Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964

  1. Pingback: Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 – review of statutory duties « Rosehill Readers

  2. Roger MacKay

    I am totally opposed to Suffolk County Council’s plan to ‘divest’ 29 of it’s 44 libraries. I believe this to be in breach of the Public Libraries and Museums Act

  3. David Harrison

    I was a library school student in 1964 and attended the House when the 1964 Public Libraries & Museums Act was passed. It has been a vital part of legislation protecting public libraries from maverick local authorities that seek to vandalise 150 years of educational, cultural and information development. Especially important has been the clause referring to the need to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” service, for without this a few councillors can force the service to wither and die.
    In the name of a civilised society, this must not be allowed to happen.

  4. Sue Liddell

    Comprehensive – dictionary definition = including everything; libraries need to include everything, and that means being inclusive in centres of habitation – cities, towns, villages need libraries to provide for the range and variety of needs of the inhabitants
    Efficient – dictionary definition = capable of doing what may be required; libraries need to be manned with trained and skilled people, with good technology backup and stock.
    Conclusion – don’t let the libraries go; in fact, increase their capabilities in the community.

  5. Pat Jourdan

    This divestment programme (words that George Orwell would have relished) is a demolition plan. In a few years the level of literacy will decline, as a result of this destruction.
    Society is being reshaped – betting shops are not being disbanded, are they? To take away access to books is to take away access to learning.

    1. Lauren

      Absolutely! It’s all here to be helpful and all content is under a creative commons license, so attribution would be great, thanks.

  6. Pingback: Review of library statutory duties |

  7. Muriel Clubbe

    As a professionally qualified librarian, I was most concerned when I first heard of councils closing libraries, clearly in breach of their statutory requirements. As the 1964 Act has not been repealed, I am still concerned that ‘a blind eye’ has apparently been turned to these closures. Unfortunately, this seems to be a common trend, but I fear it will prove to be a false economy.

  8. R E Bullock

    Here in Bucks, libraries are being divested of many books and the choice of books in any subject is much diminished. There is an ordering scheme but it can take weeks and weeks before the book can be collected and only mainstream books are obtainable.
    The libraries seem to be morphing into community centres and used by an assortment of groups. They are no longer places to study and reflect and even the local newspapers are not stocked for a quick visit. Several libraries have been taken over by volunteer groups whose remit appears to be parochial and closed down as opposed to raising awareness of new horizons for anyone in the locality.
    There seems to be a covert death of the library service by a thousand quiet cuts.
    It is a lamentable state of affairs.

  9. john macdonald

    Not mentioned much; libraries are often on sites that developers would like to have, and these would provide considerable sums to councils selling them. Although it might be politically improper of me to suggest, there might well be inducements offered to councillors who would expedite the closure of libraries and the sale of the sites. Also, libraries are quite often originally gifts to the public from generous persons or or philanthropic organisations, and strictly speaking are not able to be sold by a council because not owned by them. At the very least such transactions should be the subject of a proper public consultation, overseen by an independant referee, out of the councils political or financial reach.

  10. Pingback: Hundreds of libraries have closed. Can you help reverse the trend? | Vox Political

  11. Michael

    Our local library is being moved to within a Barnet Southgate College (and probably reduced to 25% or so of its current size). We are told that it will be necessary to have a library membership card in order to enter the building. This is ridiculous; I often use reference libraries in other towns and would not expect to have to have a membership card for their (or any other) library in order to do so.

    In commonsense terms, a library that (probably) most people in the borough cannot access without actively joining ceases to be a “public library” in a true sense. But the law may not be in line with commonsense. Is it actually legal?

    1. Gary

      We’re aware of other libraries in the UK also co-located with educational establishments (for example Ridgeway Library, Wirral), but aren’t sure about whether access is limited to them in the same way. We imagine the library card to enter the college building is for security purposes. However, we agree that having to take out library membership before using any public library does go against the spirit of a library being truly public, especially for those visitors using them for purposes that do not require the use of a library card. It’s also worth noting though that as libraries are expected to justify their value every day, the more library users with a library card (classed as active members), the more impressive the library use statistics will be. We know that statistics don’t reflect the full use and value of library services, but they are helpful when trying to fend off library cuts.

  12. Pingback: What library facilities will be left? – Save Warrington's Libraries

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