The cuts to Gloucestershire Libraries were debated in the House of Commons this evening.  The complete text is here.  I do not propose to provide a full summary here as the exchange was short and it is far better to get it from the horses’ mouth and read the actual text.  The following are just the bits that jumped out to me.

The Liberal Democrat MP for Cheltenham, Martin Horwood, secured the debate and led on the example of the threatened Hester’s Way Library.  Earmarked for closure but in an area of social deprivation, there were great protests, with his comment about campaigners showing their importance:

“Most of all, I pay tribute to a non-party political voluntary campaign group, Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries, which surpassed all our efforts in its dogged campaign to defend Gloucestershire’s library services, and gathered 13,000 petition signatures and took the battle all the way to the High Court.”,

After further describing what happened, he then went on to question whether Ed Vaizey was fulfilling his statutory obligation of superintending public library provision.  At this point, Conservative MP Neil Carmichael (Stroud) tried to spike the question by saying:

“I am grateful for the opportunity to point out that we have similar issues about libraries in my constituency of Stroud. For example, we have a very well run community library in Painswick, which is well supported and, indeed, has the support of the county council. It is a great success story, so will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the people of Painswick on making such a successful effort?”

This was then followed up by Richard Graham MP (Conservative, Gloucester) who then tried the same line of attack by saying that no library would close and, indeed, volunteers would help with flexibility.  Indeed, the whole thrust of the Conservative side of the debate was that volunteers were taking over any closed libraries and were doing (or would do) a great job so there was no problem in cutting the funding.

Martin Horwood pointed out the failure of Ed Vaizey to decide on what he is to do on the case even easily more than a year into the situation:

“I suggest that the Secretary of State had better get a move on, or all the decisions will have been taken and implemented before he has finished gathering the evidence.”

Ed Vaizey then responded stressing that public libraries were still statutory, that he had not intention to change this, and that he may intervene at some point in the future.  At this point, campaigners around the country (especially Bolton, Lewisham and the Isle of Wight where he has recently refused to intervene) presumably choked into their coffee. He also, possibly in the hope that a passing billionaire (or, failing that, thousands of volunteers) would solve the problem, pointed out that philanthropy played a part in the early history of UK libraries.

The Conservatives accused Mr Horwood of using this debate to kick off an election campaign, which gained a response which demonstrates the sheer political power of cuts to libraries:

“I want to put on record my absolute rejection that this is in some way the launch of a Lib Dem election campaign. I wish we could recruit 13,000 petitioners and the High Court to our cause, but I do not think that that is credible. However, if the electors of Gloucestershire wish to try a different approach, they will know which way to vote in May 2013.”

Ed Vaizey’s closing statement highlighted the positive aspects of his tenure.

“In conclusion, my Department reviews all proposals for library reorganisation put forward by councils. We will review Gloucestershire’s proposals and issue a decision on whether to hold a public inquiry in the fullness of time once those proposals are clear. A £6 million fund has been provided by the Arts Council, which is now responsible for superintending and promoting the library service. Yesterday, the Cabinet Office announced an initiative to promote volunteering by young people in libraries, and we are piloting automatic membership of libraries for schoolchildren. We are publishing data by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy publicly so that members of the public, MPs and councillors can compare their library services with similar services across the country. To echo some the remarks made by my hon. Friends, I make no apology for the increase in volunteers in libraries. They make an enormous difference to the provision of library services.”

So what does this all mean? Well, for a start, it shows how the advent of volunteers in libraries is being used to grey the previous black and white of library closed or library open.  The downsides (fragmentation, retention, cost of training etc – see this page) were not mentioned.  In addition, the good things that are happening in libraries (see, for example, this page) are being used to trump the bad (see here). One expects to hear more about the “£6 million for libraries [over two years] to work with artists and cultural organisations on arts and cultural activities”, with no mention that this represents less than a quarter of the annual budget the old MLA had in its budget for libraries.

This debate, showed that Ed Vaizey, and by extension the Government, has no intention of changing course. Or, rather, that, for better or worse,  the party changed course a year or two ago and is now sticking to the revised plan.  What do I mean by this? I mean that it has moved from simply closing libraries as it had originally proposed in Gloucestershire and the Isle of Wight and in many other places to the alternative approach of replacing paid staff with volunteers – and has discovered that this serves its political purposes very well.  It keeps libraries open.  It converts protesters into Big Society supporters and it muddles debates like this one very well indeed.

For libraries, therefore, like the rest of the country, there appears to be no Plan B but there is a Plan V.  Volunteers, and lots of them.


  • Activists reopen occupied Friern Barnet library – BookSeller.  “Council officials have visited the library to meet the eight-strong group of activists, and discuss setting up a community library. But in a statement, Barnet said: “The council is genuinely enthusiastic about any group proposing ideas to run a community library in Friary House. However, it is important that public assets are protected and we have now started the legal process to have the squatters removed, although this is not a quick process.”
  • African public libraries summit – “The rural farmer needs to connect with new markets to sell his crops. The start-up entrepreneur needs capital to launch her business. The community health worker needs up-to-date research to care for her patients. What they all have in common is a need for information. Today’s public library combines a trusted, local institution with information access that is critical to powering economic opportunity and community development.”
  • British Library to host spoken word showcase inspired by Olympic values – London Evening Standard. “The British Library is hosting a spoken word showcase celebrating the 2012 Games. Part of the Circuit Live project, an initiative which helps young people engage with libraries, the event will bring together aspiring poets from across London to perform material inspired by the seven Olympic & Paralympic values: Excellence, Respect, Friendship, Inspiration, Determination, Courage and Equality.”
  • MP says more should be done to save libraries – ITV News.  “Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood will tonight question how decisions are reached to close libraries. Although the Hesters Way library in the town was eventually saved, he will say in Parliament that a government minister should have done more to help protect it.” [BUT Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries say in email: “ITV News have the facts entirely wrong. Ten libraries were at threat of closure in Gloucestershire. Three were saved by us not by volunteers and they will continue to have paid staff and be funded by the county council. The others mentioned in the written piece are also remaining as part of the county provision but will be supported by volunteers alongside paid staff. The other seven are still being closed as public libraries. ” – Ian].
  • Plans to move National Libraries Day from February to June have been suggested.  What do you think? – Twtpoll.  Your chance to cast an easy vote for what month you want National Libraries Day to be in.  Voting as of time of checking was 63% for keeping it in February, with 125 votes.


Decisions about the future of The Women’s Library are due to be made by the end of the month.  Without our immediate intervention, it will be sold off by London Met to the only remaining bidder – the LSE – who will move the library out off its current purpose-built building. The Save the Women’s Library campaign is fighting to keep the library in its historic home, for the collection to stay intact and accessible to all, and for the library to retain its expert staff.     The next few weeks are crucial to support the Women’s Library in its fight against closure.

Thursday 13th September: Demonstrate outside the selection committee meeting, which will be held at the Holloway Road site of London Met. Meet at 12pm at Holloway Road tube, so we can lobby the committee members before they go in for the meeting, which starts at 1pm.  Further very important dates for your diary:

Monday 17th September: Come to the next campaign organising meeting. 6 – 8pm at Freedom Books, Angel Alley, E1 (Aldgate East).

Saturday 22nd September: Demonstrate at the Women’s Library. 4-5pm, Old Castle Street, E1 (Aldgate East). Download the flyer here

  • Squatters “to reopen London library closed in council cuts” – London Evening Standard.  “The group said they “invaded” empty Friern Barnet Library through an open window and have set themselves up as “community librarians” … “council spokeswoman said the authority is committed to seeing the squatters removed from the building and has started legal action. She added that talks are being held about the possibility of the group opening a community library in empty Friary House at Friary Park.”


Local News

  • Brent – Fundraiser in Kilburn to raise funds for community library in Wembley – Brent and Kilburn Times.  “Established performers including BBC Radio London regular Tim Wells and many others will join revellers at the North London Tavern in Kilburn High Road on Thursday, September 13. The evening forms part of The Kilburn Comedy Festival and will be raising money for Preston Community Library, a pop-up library outside the former Preston Library in Carlton Avenue East, Wembley.”
  • Croydon – Have what little say you can on New Addington Library – Save Croydon Libraries Campaign.  “The closure of the purpose-built New Addington library is not negotiable, according to sources. The decision was taken without any consultation with library users and local residents.The closure of the library, which many suspect is to make way for a Tesco store or similar, is being pitched to the public as a relocation.” … “Since then there has been an extensive cull of books in preparation for the move, leaving row upon row of empty shelves and top shelves ‘filled’ with books displayed, front on, to help fill the void. “.  Consultations appear to be incorrectly dated.
  • Hertfordshire – Hatfield Library’s 50th anniversary celebrations – Welwyn Hatfield Times.  Lots of events planned.
  • Isle of Man – Libraries transferred to independent running – Isle of “The DEC is pleased to announce that from the start of this month, the libraries are being run by the Manx Educational Foundation (MEF), which has secured private sector funding from PokerStars.
    Detailed negotiations have taken place over the transfer of members of staff and the lease of assets to the new operators.
    The MEF is a not for profit, non-governmental organisation set up last year to encourage public-private sector partnerships in the field of education with the aim of making the Island a centre of excellence for key industries.”
  • Thurrock – Call for perspective over town’s youth vandal problemEnquirer.  “The meeting heard that a new, Olympics-inspired play zone in Corringham had been virtually wrecked by vandals, while the town centre, and particularly its library, had been menaced by young people.” … “There have been some problems with young people in libraries, and that’s not just an issue in Corringham, but the Council reacted and have placed security staff in libraries which has largely brought an end to the problem,” he said. “There is no truth at all that vandalism and bad behaviour will force the closure of the library.”

“Experience has shown that several libraries face anti-social behaviour issues during the school break and one person was employed to travel between libraries this summer. “Regular visits from police and PCSOs also helped maintain security.”

  • West Sussex – New chapter for Arun’s library service? – Littlehampton Gazette.  “A new survey, launched on Monday (September 3) by West Sussex County Council, is asking residents to say exactly what they want to see change in their local library, in the next few years. The questionnaire takes a realistic look at the service, both present and the future, and asks how often people read books, whether they use traditional paper volumes, electronic readers or audiobooks.”