Comment

At long last, the Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport has announced an inquiry into library closures .  Being a part of parliament, this group of ten MPs (five Conservative, four Labour, one Lib Dem) has significant clout in influencing the the future of public libraries.  It will effectively decide for itself what it thinks the public library service should be in this country, what legal protection it should have and if the DCMS is doing enough.  It will then present its results to the Department and to Parliament.
This is unlikely to be seen as good news by the DCMS being that, under the uninterested Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt and the invisible minister-technically-for-libraries Ed Vaizey, it has done precisely nothing in the last year (other than writing two vaguely worded letters) while presiding over the biggest cuts to library services in history.  Very aptly, the department has said today it has “noted” the fact of the inquiry.  That represents its entire response to the crisis since 2010.  In one word.
Defenders of public libraries will have doubts about some of those people who will be submitting evidence.  The Local Government Association (LGA) has shown itself uninterested in defending libraries, describing the recent historic court win as a “technicality“.  Many local councils will have a vested interest in suggesting that libraries should close and will downplay their importance.  Expect also the importance of paid trained staff to be underplayed by many who simply do not wish to pay for them any more.  Ranged against them, in numbers and organisation never before seen, will be scores of local campaign groups and hundreds, perhaps thousands of individuals who have well and truly woken up to the danger of a world without libraries.   Because of this, the Inquiry into Libraries is likely to received unprecedented media attention and well it should.
Some thoughts now on the points the Inquiry is asking for feedback on:
  • “What constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century?” – The phrase “comprehensive and efficient” relates to the definition of the 1964 Act governing library provision.  That the Inquiry adds on “for the 21st Century” at the end suggests that, perhaps, it is seeking to change the definition.  It may be considering the argument of detractors that branches are not so important in the age of the internet and the ebook.  Campaigners must demonstrate that this is not the case.
  • the extent to which planned library closures are compatible with the requirements of the Libraries & Museums Act 1964 and the Charteris Report” – This again relates to what constitutes a proper public library service and is perhaps asking what number of libraries, in what configuration, should be seen as necessary in each authority.  That the Charteris Report is mentioned will be welcomed by many library campaigners.  This report is widely seen as being an effective argument for public libraries and it is favourable that it’s conclusions will be part of the formal Inquiry.
  • the impact library closures have on local communities“.  There is much evidence now available on this subject due to activities of both councils and of campaigners.  Anyone just seeing the boarded up walls of Brent’s closed libraries – and what the heartbreaking messages that their ex-users have written on them – will consider the case amply put.
  • the effectiveness of the Secretary of State’s powers of intervention under the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964.”  These powers are completely ineffective at the moment as it is clear that the Secretary of State will not use them unless forced to do so.  It is to be hoped that the Inquiry can do something about this.
Whether the Select Committee has the clout to decide events is a question as yet unanswered.  The previous Inquiry, chaired by Gerald Kaufman (the 2004/5 Select Committee of the DCMS on libraries) concluded that “the service is under stress” and made many proposals for public libraries, after hearing much evidence, mainly to do with boosting bookstock, opening hours and other bread and butter issues.  The Government at the time’s response to it is here but it’s generally considered that in reality the minister at the time ignored it.  
Public awareness and media coverage of the cuts to libraries then was as nothing to compared to now.  Times have most definitely changed since then.  Let us hope that the news today is a sign that it will change now for the better.

The above represents initial thoughts and should not be taken as expertly written gospel, except for the bit about Ed Vaizey.


423 libraries (333 buildings and 90 mobiles) currently under threat or closed/left council control since 1/4/11 out of c.4612 in the UK, complete list below. Librarian professional body CILIP forecasts 600 libraries are under threat (inc. 20% of English libraries).  The Public Libraries News figure is obtained from counting up all reports about public libraries in the media each day.

Actions

  • Write about your views on public libraries to the Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport.  Email cmsev@parliament.uk with “library closures” in subject line. Emails stand more chance of being effective if they give your views on (1) “what constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st Century”, (2) to what extent library closures are compatible with the law and the Charteris Report, (3) the impact closures have on communities and (4) the effectiveness of the secretary of state’s powers of interviention.  Deadline: 12th January 2012. NB full details on how to submit your views are here.  More guidance on giving written and verbal evidence is here. 
  • Please sign the national petition in support of public libraries.
  • Email Justin Tomlinson MP for Swindon about your concerns.  He is the chair of the new All-Party Parliamentary Group for libraries to be launched in December.

News

  • Bridges over the digital divideGuardian.  At a time when many local authorities have cut back on their library services, Brighton & Hove city council has made them central to improving its performance and the experience of service users”.  Libraries set up volunteer-staffed IT assistance to encourage internet use – 60% of library users don’t have the internet in certain libraries.
  • Culture, Media and Sport Committee: Library Closure Inquiry announced – FoGL.   “We will be submitting evidence. We are sure we played a big part in prompting them into action with our high court victory. As you may remember many of us wrote to the DCMS (who are supposedly, although we have not seen much proof of this yet, responsible for superintending the provision of public libraries) over the year asking them to intervene in Gloucestershire and a group of us went to London to see DCMS officials in April http://foclibrary.wordpress.com/2011/04/15/fogl-meet-with-dcms-officials-over-concerns-around-gccs-library-plans/ they did nothing however and allowed GCC to continue down its unlawful path.”

  • Select committee to put libraries under spotlight BookSeller.   Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport will hold inquiry on library closures. Campaigners and CILIP “delighted”.   “Tim Coates, chair of umbrella group Libraries for Life for Londoners, said: “At long last the culture select committee have decided to interrogate the activities of the DCMS because that is their job.” However, he warned that to have any authority, the committee needed to explain why it had allowed the DCMS to ignore the findings of the last committee inquiry, chaired by Gerald Kaufman, published in 2005. Coates said it found the library service was in poor condition and made recommendations for its improvement.”
“If Councils delegate libraries, they don’t delegate their statutory responsibility and must go on funding the service so how is the budget set? Who says how much the library service needs and decides how much it will actually get? How could professional librarians make a case for a certain budget if responsible to people who only understand leisure centres? There’s too much emphasis on leisure. Some authorities are unaware of educational, study, business, research functions of libraries.” Christopher Pipe on Twitter [edited into non-tweet form]

Changes

Local news

  • Caerphilly – Council says it is on budget – Campaign.  “Caerphilly is also investing in new libraries. An exciting new library and customer service centre has recently opened in Bargoed and a similar scheme will be launched in Risca in December. “We want to send out a clear message that we aim to cut costs, but wherever possible protect services for our local communities,” added Cllr Colin Mann.”
Ulverston Library was opened on November 21 [1961] by judge Lord Birkett, who said in his opening speech that he ‘hoped that television and radio would never replace the habit of reading” Cumbria – Ulverston Library celebrates 50 years – Westmorland Gazette

  • Gloucestershire – Library decision ruled “unlawful” – Stroud News and Journal.  
  • Herefordshire – Future Libraries Programme: how this might affect Herefordshire, an updateHLUG.  Review of situation in Herefordshire and an unflattering (but realistic) assessment of the Government’s only library-related initiative to date.
  • Kent – Is Kent County Council on the road to widespread library closures? –  Voices for the Library.  Meeting earlier this year, with minutes still secret, had discussed closing 40 out of 103.  Recent meeting had the chief librarian suggesting “libraries” in doctor’s surgeries and that the council was “prepared” to be challenged on closures.  “Locality boards” will decide future of libraries, but previous boards were not fully open to the public.  Questions apparently already proposed to some boards include the withdrawal of funding of 81 libraries either closing them or blackmailing local groups/councils to fund them instead.  There needs to be full transparency and publicity to ease fears.
  • Lambeth – Waterloo Library to be “relocated to a better building”London SE1.   “Cllr Florence Nosegbe, cabinet member for culture, explained how the council’s proposed community hubs will work. She said: “It’s not just about handing over buildings to community groups, it’s about co-designing and co-producing those buildings and services with our community groups in the spirit of the co-operative council.”
  • Upper Norwood Library faces an uncertain future – Alan Gibbons.   “Croydon have now given Lambeth three options. 1. Buy Croydon’s half share of all UNJL assets and accept responsibility for the UNJL. 2. Take a lease of Croydon’s half share in the premises and become solely responsible for the UNJL. 3. Agree that the library will be sold with the proceeds, after settlement of all costs, equally divided between the two boroughs.”. Meeting to discuss situation: “will be held on Wednesday 30th November, 7.30 pm at the Salvation Army Hall, Westow St. SE19.”

  • Northamptonshire – Lending time to the library – Evening Telegraph.   Council launches campaign to boost volunteers in libraries from 450 to 1600 to cut £1m of trained staff.  If volunteers don’t come forward, council will close branches. Volunteers already help with rhymetime, housebound book deliveries.
  • Rotherham – Library managers struggling to hit £500,000 savings demand – Yorkshire Post.  Libraries have come up with £136k of cuts.  Councillor want to cut more than one-seventh of budget while making service “modern, vibrant”.  Libraries chief says ““Initial discussions have identified potential impact on the location of libraries, opening hours, service delivery and the range and number of books purchased.” … “As library managers continue to look for ways to save money, it is likely that they will have one eye on the situation in Doncaster, which has led to angry public meetings and criticism of the town’s elected mayor Peter Davies.”