I am writing this letter to voice my concern about the state of the public library service in the UK. I am particularly concerned that libraries, which are a statutory service, are being disproportionately subjected to cuts.
A properly funded and professionally run library service ensures the development of our democracy and helps everyone to play an active role in society. Libraries ensure the economic prosperity of the nation, by supporting those without employment to search and apply for work more easily and to develop their digital and literacy skills. A professionally run and properly funded library service alleviates pressures on the most vulnerable by providing them with access to the resources they need to obtain the support they require.
Public libraries play a crucial role in levelling the playing field and ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential. For children, libraries provide a crucial safe space to ensure that the poorest have access to the same resources as the wealthiest. They ensure that children from the poorest backgrounds are not left behind and give us the best possible chance to address the poor literacy standards in the UK (identified by the most recent OECD Survey of Adult Skills). For those children without internet access at home (approximately 2m), computer access via their library allows them to get online and succeed in education, which gives them the best possible chance of escaping the poverty trap.
Free internet access in public libraries has a key role to play in ensuring that those seeking work have the best possible chance of being successful. For millions in this country, the public library is the only place they can get online and are absolutely vital in ensuring those people can escape unemployment and secure work. Without readily available, free internet access, many thousands will be caught in a poverty trap they will be unable to escape.
With the shifting of government services and democratic processes online, public libraries play a crucial role in bringing the electorate closer to the democratic process. Without this online access there is a growing risk of a deepening democratic divide. There is a real opportunity to build both democratic engagement and to ensure equality of access to government services through a properly funded public library network. As UNESCO’s public library manifesto makes clear:
Freedom, Prosperity and the Development of society and individuals are fundamental human values. They will only be attained through the ability of well-informed citizens to exercise their democratic rights and to play an active role in society. Constructive participation and the development of democracy depend on satisfactory education as well as on free and unlimited access to knowledge, thought, culture and information.
To ensure that public libraries effectively play their role in developing well-informed citizens through free and unlimited access to information, the service must be properly funded and run by trained professionals with the support of properly remunerated staff. Only through professionally trained staff can we be sure to deliver the improved literacy standards and democratic engagement that are the foundation of a prosperous 21st century society. Books in phone boxes and volunteer delivered library services short-change society and weaken our democracy; they do not offer the skilled support, range of materials and safe public space that properly staffed and resourced library branches provide.
Public libraries are a statutory service under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. They provide a vital service for many and cuts to the service only puts increasing pressure on other services. I hope that you will advocate for a strong, well-funded and professionally run public library service and that you will oppose cuts to library services both locally and nationally by raising your concerns with the Minister of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Only the Minister has the power to intervene to review library closures. I urge you therefore to show your support for libraries and raise these concerns with the Minister. Please request that he intervene to halt the damaging attack on our public libraries service across the country/within your constituency*.
[* Delete as applicable]
You can also download the template here:
Template letter to MPs [docx]