The campaigners from Somerset and Gloucestershire have won and so the 21 threatened libraries in those counties will stay open. Where the Councils did not win was over giving sufficient regard to equalities legislation.  It was found that both made decisions to close libraries without sufficient information gathering, analysis or concern for the vulnerable (for instance single mothers, elderly and the disabled). In Somerset, this means the closure of eleven libraries is “unlawful and can be challenged”.  In Gloucestershire, the desire of the council to withdraw funding from ten libraries, giving libraries such as Hester’s Way (in one of the most depressed areas of the county) and Churchdown to volunteers instead, has been rebuffed. 
In theory, therefore, the councils should apologise and get on with their business.  However, this does not appear to be the case.   Indeed, the leader of Gloucestershire council has already indicated that this is what he intends to do, although the leader of Somerset is taking more time to consider their position.  In a worrying sign, James Goudie QC, appearing for the councils, claimed the victory was an “own goal” and in a statement that comes across as dangerously close to vengeful and vindictive, he “warned the library campaigners that the victory could turn out to be an “own goal” – and even more “draconian” reductions in library services could be introduced. He said that, when the local authorities came to reconsider their decisions, it was at least “highly likely” they would make the same decisions again. He said: “They might actually be more draconian from the point of view of those challenging libraries’ closures than the decisions made months ago. There is no reason to suppose they are are going to practically benefit, given that the financial constraints have obviously not eased.”
This battle is won therefore for the campaigners, and well they deserve the victory, but the war itself is not.  One of the key things that will help defend matters is, crucially, the intervention of the Secretary of State in defining once and for all what a “comprehensive and efficient” library provision actually means.  Sadly the uninterested Jeremy Hunt, and his silent deputy Ed Vaizey, give no indication that they are willing to do this and so this battle may just be a blip in the ongoing dismantling of the widespread local provision of libraries.
For now, though, that is a problem for the future.  This is the first time in British legal history that a council has lost a court case over public libraries.  It has, whether Somerset or Glos, Doncaster or Dorset, Brent or Croydon like it or not, set a precedent to say that councils need to be properly think out the cuts.  It has also sent the message that you don’t mess with those who care for their local libraries.  Well done to all concerned.

[NB.  This article has been substantially changed on Thursday 17th November due to key errors being made in the analysis of the legal case yesterday.  My apologies to all of the campaigners concerned.  Ian.]

433 libraries (344 buildings and 89 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 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.

The Legal Challenge

  • Campaigners score victory at High Court – CILIP Update.  Long article.
  • Channel Four News Three minute segment on the decision.  Cllr Hawthorne calls it a “small technical point” that his council was breaking the law and was found guilty of “bad government”
  • CILIP response to the Gloucestershire and Somerset libraries judicial review – CILIP.  Congratulates the campaigners, that all communities and minorities need to be considered before cuts are forced through, that cuts to library services should be “proportionate” to other services and that there should be a national vision for libraries underpinned by proper standards.
  • Councillors at the most dangerous when wounded – Alan Gibbons.   [Council] “statements wilfully misinterpret what the judge said. The judge said: “the decisions under challenge were not just unlawful but bad government” hence the total quashing of the library plans and telling them they have to start again.  It was VERY serious that they lost on this point.  The judge said it was a “substantive error of law” and a “substantial breach”. Expect the wounded beast to bite back. Campaigners will have to be ready  to fight on. They have right on their side.
  • Court rulest library closures unlawful – Guardian.   Calls decision a “surprise”.  “To the gasps and muted exclamations of the campaigners sitting at the back of the court, he ordered the councils to revisit their plans. Failure to do so, he said, would send the wrong message to other councils.”

“The message is expected to be heard most clearly in Brent, north-west London, where campaigners are fighting to save six libraries. Having had their judicial review rejected by a high court judge, they have taken their battle to the court of appeal and are now awaiting a decision.”

  • High Court Judge rules GCC’s library cuts unlawful FoGL.  Official statement from the Gloucestershire campaigners points out that the failure really lies at the door of the DCMS and the shamefully silent Ed Vaizey.
  • Judge rules County Council library closures “unlawful” – This is the West Country.  In an interesting use of logic, the council QC asked judge not to quash decision because this would just cause “further delay” and “uncertainty” to the employees that would otherwise lose their jobs and to the locals who would lose the service.
  • Library campaigners win legal challenge – Channel Four News.   “The judge is considering what “relief” should be granted to the claimants in the light of his ruling. Lawyers hailed the decision as “a victory for campaigners whose opposition to the councils’ library cuts had been ignored”.
  • Library closures can be challenged, judge rules – BBC.  In an interesting definition of the word “comprehensive”, the Council lawyers said this did not mean libraries for the whole county.  Lawyer called smaller libraries “the icing on the cake” which did not affect the underlying core service.
  • Library closures challenge allowed – Independent – “Judge McKenna, sitting as a deputy High Court judge, told a court packed with campaigners he had concluded that both claims succeeded. He stressed that they had succeeded on “only one of three grounds”.
  • MP welcomes court’s decision over “unlawful” closure plans – This is the West Country.   LibDem MP David Laws says “Mr Laws said: “Today’s announcement is to be welcomed and is a huge boost to the people of South Petherton and elsewhere in Somerset who rely on and value libraries. “Our local libraries are an important public service, particularly for those who don’t have access to transport.“This is a real blow to Conservative controlled Somerset County Council. The council will need to reconsider its plans and consult more widely with local library users.”Mr Laws added: “We now need to talk to the council so that we have a proper consideration of what could be done to keep South Petherton Library open.” 

“It has been brought to our attention that Cllr Hawthorne has told the press that the council “lost on a small technical point”. This is absolutely NOT the case. The judge said “the decisions under challenge were not just unlawful but bad government” hence the total quashing of the library plans and telling them they have to start again.  It was VERY serious that they lost on this point.  The judge said it was a “substantive error of law” and a “substantial breach” FoGL

“Gloucestershire residents should never have had to go through this stressful, upsetting and expensive process and serious questions now also need to be answered by the secretary of state Ed Vaizey. It is Mr Vaizey’s duty to intervene when authorities are not meeting their obligations to provide a library service available to all who wish to use it. Why were Gloucestershire County Council allowed to continue down this destructive path? In opposition Mr Vaizey was a vocal critic of library closures yet our many pleas for help have been ignored whilst library users were left to fight this alone – it is clear that he left his convictions at the door on entering office.”

  • “Vaizey ignored us”, say library campaigners – BookSeller.  Peter Murphy, speaking for Somerset campaigners, highlighted the financial struggle to raise the £9,000 needed as community contribution to the legal fight and warned that under the “Big Society” vulnerable individuals were in danger of being disenfranchised. Daniel Carey of Public Interest Lawyers, representing the campaigners, said the judgement was “a vindication for library campaigners in Somerset and Gloucestershire and nationally, and for the rule of law” and said it “behoves the culture minister to step in” and bring about “a proper reappraisal of library provision in this country”.A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said today: “We note the judgment in the Somerset and Gloucester libraries judicial review and are considering its implications.”
  • Victory – Campaign for the Book.   “This is a famous victory for the doughty campaigners in both counties and should give councils elsewhere pause for thought in their often reckless closure programmes.” … ” These two councils and others have ruthlessly ignored reasoned argument that the destruction of a large proportion of the public library service is a very short sighted course when the UK languishes in 25th place in PISA international reading rankings and citizens have so few local resources to promote community pride and cohesion. Did Department of Culture Media and Sport Ministers not notice that up to eighty per cent of convicted rioters were on special needs registers?” … “Today has been a famous victory. For it to impact on the fight to defend the library service, we will all have to redouble our efforts. We will not go gentle into that good night. We will resist. With sufficient stamina, imagination, persistence and will we can win.”
  • Victory for Gloucestershire and Somerset – Voices for the Library.  “a quashing order means that the campaigners have put a halt to the council’s current plans for libraries – both local authorities’ plans will have to be rethought. We would like to congratulate both Gloucestershire and Somerset campaigners and their lawyers on their success. We know it has been a long battle and their determination has paid off.”
  • Victory for Gloucestershire library campaigners – This is Gloucestershire.  “The decision means Shire Hall must reconsider its decision to hand facilities to volunteers. It means that the Conservative administration must continue to pay for libraries including Hester’s Way and Churchdown.”

“Cllr Mark Hawthorne, Leader of Gloucestershire County Council, said: “The most important thing here is that the judge that there is nothing wrong with our plans to transfer some libraries over to communities. “We very disappointed for the community groups who are lined up to take over their services, but our promise to them is that we will continue to work with them on delivering successful community run services. In line with the judge’s ruling, we will be taking this decision again with an open mind but we are confident that our police on community run libraries is sound.”

“After the decision Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries released the following statement: We are delighted with the outcome of the judicial review. This outcome follows the proper scrutiny of Gloucestershire County Council’s library plans in court; scrutiny which was never allowed under the councils own processes. The judge’s decision to rule in the claimant’s favour on equality grounds is a real vindication of our campaign, which has long argued that the removal of public library services from the most disadvantaged, deprived and vulnerable members of our community is grossly unfair. We are also pleased to learn that the council have been denied permission to appeal the decision.”

“Danielle Carey, of Public Interest Lawyers, who represented the residents, said: “Today’s High Court ruling sends a clear message not only to Gloucestershire and Somerset councils but to every council in the country, that catering for the needs of the vulnerable must be at the heart of every decision to cut important services such as libraries.”

  • Warning as court stops library cutsRutland and Stamford Mercury.   “The judge declared the decisions were “not merely unlawful decisions, but in substance ‘bad government’, and it is important to the rule of law to give due respect to these issues of equality”.

Reaction from Ad Lib, Dorset campaign group (Press Release)

Other News

  • Fight to secure future of Yorkshire drama library – The Stage.  Drama and music groups in Yorkshire are campaigning to save a library service housing more than 90,000 play texts and 500,000 pieces of music that is under threat”. Yorkshire Libraries and Information Music and Drama Service.  Council asking for other people to run service, on either a voluntary or commercial basis.
  • Hands off our libraries – Yorkshire Post.   “Recently I posed to my MP the question – libraries or Libya? At a cost of £2bn, war won. As always, the money is there. It is a question of what our money is being spent on.”
  • Kindle lending experience from a patron’s perspective “a wolf in book’s clothing” – “while the process to obtain the book wasn’t too difficult, the process to actually get RID of the book once returned [without a lot of pesky “hey maybe you should BUY this” cajoling] was actually fairly difficult. The default settings are, not surprisingly, strongly urging that the patron purchase (not renewal, not some sort of overdue notification) the book that they have just “returned.””.

“My first experience at “borrowing a Kindle book from the library” has left me with a bad taste in my mouth. It did not feel like borrowing a book from a library. It felt like a salesperson had sold me a book with a “no-risk free home trial” and was pestering me to buy it at the end of the trial period.”

  • Libya welcomes banned books – Star. “Libya marked the end of the Gadhafi-era blacklist Monday with a ceremonial unbanning of books in the former regime’s most storied public library. Many of Libya’s emerging political hopefuls joined militia leaders and returning expat exiles at the Italianate Royal Palace for a sunset event that was equal parts a celebration of free thought and bitter lament for its cost.”

“This is a major moment for us because this is where we reclaim our intellectual freedom. We say goodbye to an era where free thinking was forbidden, where ideas were dangerous” 

  • Rethinking libraries? Axiell Symposium – Policy Review TV.  Excellent reviews and slides of of conference.  The Anythink video and slides in particular show what can be done with investment and strong ideas/leadership.
  • State of seized library – Occupy Wall Street Library.   Heartrending pictures of damaged books and computers.  ““Many books destroyed. Most equipment -and structures missing. . . most of library is missing (all of the reference section btw), damaged or destroyed.” … ““A lot is destroyed . . . more may (or may not) be coming out of their giant trashpile at back of building.” But it’s obvious to me that by recklessly throwing the contents of the park into dumpsters, the NYPD and DSNY working under Bloomberg’s orders destroyed what we built. And that their claim that the library was “safely stored” was a lie.”.  Many books, autographed by their authors, missing.  Lawsuit may be filed as property appears to have been seized and damaged without proper legalities, allegedly.
    • People’s Library and the future of OWS – AlJazeera. “The library, which took weeks to establish, reflected the uniqueness and power of the still young 99 per cent movement. “From the very beginning, the OWS encampments were not just gestures of protest thinly focused on making statements about the ills of society, but were efforts to build community where people were knowledgeable and participated in informed dialogue. The libraries, at least in Zuccotti and in Los Angeles, have been central. Here in LA a graduate student made her entire personal library available to occupiers. These libraries have contemporary theory, classical literature, incisive analyses, and all sorts of books that have been marginalised from the mainstream media and culture. But when the history of this period will be written, these are the books that will be remembered.”

“As soon as he heard about the library, his thoughts turned to Heinrich Heine, the great 19th century German poet and critic, who exclaimed in his Almansor the famous words: “Where they burn books, they’ll ultimately burn people too”. Of course, New York City isn’t burning books, but for Aloni, carting them away in garbage trucks is not that far removed. “When they disrespect books, they disrespect humankind, and when they destroy books, they destroy the spirit of humanity. The library was great because people gave more than they took. OWS was not just a place for activism, but also a place for education and rethinking; not for just blathering on when you don’t know, but being humble and willing to learn. By taking out the library, they’ve tried to stop that crucial process.” 


    Dorset – Campaign group: Charmouth Village Library
    Lambeth –  West Norwood, Minet, Carnegie, Durning and South Lambeth under threat as future depends on volunteers. Waterloo Library could be relocated, current site sold to developers.

    Local News

    • Dorset – Charmouth: Library fight will continue say AdLib campaigners – Bridport News.  “A highly-charged Dorset County Council meeting saw councillors vote for a second time to take away core funding from nine of the county’s 34 libraries. Campaigners say they will take the issue to the Secretary of State.”… “The vote was split down party lines with 25 Conservative councillors voting against the motion to keep the libraries funded and 14 Lib Dem and Labour councillors voting for it. Three councillors abstained from voting, including Marshwood Vale member Col Geoff Brierley, who is also a member of the Friends of Charmouth Library.”  Council says them withdrawing from running the libraries gives villagers “a great opportunity” (sic).  Three year support package from council to volunteers, no guarantee of funding after that. 
    • Hampshire – Library plans to be looked at again – This is Hampshire.  “Hampshire County Council is proposing to close two libraries and slash opening hours at 36 others as part of controversial plans to save £2.4m. But just five weeks into a three-month consultation, library bosses have acknowledged proposed cuts might cause problems in Alresford, Eastleigh, Totton, Whitchurch and Leigh Park but say the total number of hours will still be reduced by eight per cent.”.  Council is changing opening hour cuts proposals due to feedback.
    • Lambeth – Library reforms to go before council Guardian series.  “Under the plans, Brixton and Streatham libraries will be open seven days a week fully equipped with the latest IT and a full range of specialist library staff. West Norwood, Minet, Carnegie, Durning and South Lambeth libraries will all remain open and be developed into community libraries, run in partnership with the residents who will decide how they are managed, how budgets are spent.”

    In a superb response to a freedom of information request, the University says “Far from having a policy on masturbation or outlawing the practice, as the bogus notice alleged, the University encourages the study of it, academically at least. Among the titles in the University Library is “Solitary Sex : A Cultural History of Masturbation” by Thomas Walter Laqueur, pub Zone Books, New York, 2003.”
    • Waltham Forest – Leytonstone: Community library “can’t use branch’s books” – Guardian series. ” Residents living by Harrow Green Library in Leytonstone are currently in negotiations with the council to set up their own facility in the same building after it shuts on Friday December 2. But they are furious to learn that the council will not let them use the branch’s current stock of books as they had hoped. The authority says the resources will be redistributed and that no decision has been made on whether to let campaigners use the building.”  Some items will be provided but exactly what has not yet been finalised.

    “If Waltham Forest council is willing to let volunteers run the library, why is it removing the books? This looks bad. In 2007, after an investigation by the WF Guardian, the council were forced to admit they had sent nearly a quarter of a million books to Edmonton incinerator. These were destroyed without an attempt at selling or giving them away.   The council said some books were destroyed because they hadn’t been borrowed in the past three years. But St James Street Library Campaign found out that they had been boxed up in storage for more than three years, so no one had a chance to borrow them!”