The Guardian have published an article on cuts to public libraries that positively portrays volunteers as an alternative to paid staff.  This is noteworthy as that newspaper as been at the forefront of covering the impact of cuts to public libraries over the last couple of years. The article, “Libraries run by volunteers as councils look to save money“, looks at the cuts in the Isle of Wight where five libraries are now volunteer-run, with a local councillor saying that it was the only way to save the branches and that the “permanent staff have learned a lot from the volunteers”.

It is worth noting that the Isle of Wight wanted to close 9 out of 11 of its branches initially and only kept 6 because of massive public protest.  Its cuts to the library budget were amongst most severe in the whole country, suggesting that it was the Council’s political choice to concentrate cuts on libraries rather than something it was forced to do.  One wonders, also, what the paid staff learnt from the volunteers, as it is nowhere mentioned.

These are severe cuts and the article makes clear that the Wight is not alone.  A survey of 81 authorities by the newspaper noted Manchester are planning an even more severe cut, of 28%, while others are not far behind.  My own list of media reports of authorities announced cuts to libraries makes similarly depressing reading, with the fact that some authorities are cutting far less than others, with some refurbishing or building new libraries, showing that the choice to cut libraries is less pre-ordained than suggested.

A last point is that none of the reports make clear that libraries are a statutory service.  Polly Toynbee even lists them definitively as one that is not.  This is factually wrong but may be realistically correct.  It’s useful to note that the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act that makes libraries statutory has not been successfully used in any legal case against closures.  The vagueness of its provisions (“comprehensive and efficient”) is a poor joke.  An even worse one is that Ed Vaizey refers to intervening under the Act as a possibility he keeps in reserve.  This is a necessity for him as he needs to keep his figleaf of authority but the sad reality is that everyone knows there is no chance he will intervene using the Act no matter what the circumstances.

For these cuts are not pre-ordained.  They are part of a larger picture where the current Government has decided that there needs to be historically unprecedented cuts to public services and that local government must take a lion’s share of the damage.  A key part of this strategy is to pass to the Councils the bitterest independence pill imaginable – to be the ones to decide how to implement the cuts on the ground.  Another key part of the strategy is to downgrade the importance of public service enough as to suggest that the unpaid, doing it because they have no choice if they want to save their service, is a desirable and potentially long-term successful goal.

The minister can therefore say it is nothing to do with him or the Government and, factually, he is correct.  However, in every other sense, he is wrong and articles that suggest that passing the service to volunteers is somehow a preferable option to a well-funded, truly comprehensive and truly efficient (as opposed to an atomised) service do the long-term prospects of public libraries no favours.


  • Anarchy in the library – Infoism. Looks at a mixed staff/user-driven rather than staff-driven services and asks others for their opinions [NB.  This description changed from “recommends a mixed …” after email from author – Ed.]

John Robertson (Glasgow North West, Labour)

To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport pursuant to the answer of 11 March 2013, Official Report, column 60W, on internet, if she will consider conducting an assessment of the provision of free community internet access points for use by those who do not have internet access at home in (a) Glasgow North West constituency, (b) Glasgow, (c) Scotland and (d) the UK.

Edward Vaizey (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Culture, Communications and Creative Industries), Business, Innovation and Skills; Wantage, Conservative)

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has no plans to make an assessment of the provision of free community internet access points across the UK. The Government’s broadband policies and programmes are focused on ensuring that as many people as possible have access to broadband where they live. Our broadband programme is aiming to ensure that 90% of the population has access to superfast broadband, with the remainder of the population having access to at least 2 Mbps service. In addition, the recent auction of spectrum will lead to the competitive provision of 4G mobile broadband services from the summer, with one of the operators having an obligation in its licence to reach at least 98% of the population. Other broadband technologies are also available now, including fixed wireless and satellite which is capable of serving almost 100% of UK premises. Furthermore, the Universal Offers initiative launched in January this year by the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) commented that most public libraries provide digital access for the community and have done so for some time.

Hansard, 25th March 2013


  • Council cuts will bring local government ‘to its knees’ – Guardian. “despite having made £5bn worth of cuts since June 2010, including the axing of 230,000 jobs, local authorities across the political spectrum will be forced to “decommission” entire services including libraries, arts, leisure facilities, youth services and after-school clubs.”.  81 councils surveyed, with Culture on average taking an 8% cut this year.

“As libraries, swimming pools, sports, youth centres, arts, parks, roads, housing, school repairs and myriad other non-statutory services take a hit, a backlog of public squalor builds up – another national debt to be repaid later. The Guardian survey shows the next wave of cuts falling on statutory services: care for the old and child protection, both already threadbare and likely to suffer scandals.” Polly Toynbee in Labour needs to recapture the spirit and nerve of 1945 – Guardian / Comment is Free.

  • Libraries run by volunteers as councils look to save money – Guardian.  Looks at Isle of Wight’s decision to have volunteers running five of its libraries due to cutting the budget.  Adult and social care taking more of a shrinking budget so libraries will either be closed or passed to volunteers. Claims that paid staff have learnt from volunteers [but does not explain how – Ed.].  Looks at numbers of libraries closing (inc. Cipfa and Public Libraries News figures) but also at positive initiatives like the Public Library Information Offer from the Society of Chief Librarians. Dame Joan Bakewell called library cuts “a cultural catastrophe”:  Ed Vaizey promises a report on the decline in 2014.  See this reply from an Isle of Wight library user.


Local news

  • Angus – Edzell library restoration boosted by Leader funds – BBC. £33k grant from Leader funds. “Inglis Memorial library is considered to be one of the best preserved examples of a Victorian public library in the United Kingdom. Angus Council’s plans to restore the building have been supported by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professional Historic Libraries Group and the Historic Libraries Forum.”
  • Edinburgh – Not by the book: the new Edinburgh libraries – Asia Pacific Futuregov. Interview with Liz McGettigan, chief of Edinburgh Libraries is interviewed; ““We’re creating institutions that are more than libraries”, explains McGettigan. “Our libraries are becoming trusted hubs in the community, supporting personal businesses, helping the digitally excluded, providing access to learning and knowledge, and serving as a gateway to local and national government”. Online portal for library users plus gearing up for supplying Digital By Default services.
  • Lambeth – Brixton library marks the abolition of slavery – Voice. “The Arts Council England project developed by Lambeth-based social enterprise, Louder Than Words, and supported by non-profit Small Green Shoots, has seen a selection of Lambeth’s young writers from African and Caribbean descent produce odes to their neighbourhoods in the form of prose, poetry, song and rap lyrics. Their letters have been transformed into a work of art, which will be displayed at the Tate Library as part of its ongoing refurbishment.”
  • Norfolk – Sheringham library marks 50-year milestone – EDP. “Library manager Jane Parker said the library now offered a wide range of services, from writers’ workshops and free internet access, to children’s events and outreach services.”
  • Peterborough – Approval for cuts to Peterborough library opening hours – Peterborough Today. “The cuts, which are designed to help save £200,000 from the council’s budget, will see Werrington, Orton and Bretton Library close for one day a week, and will mean shorter opening hours at Central Library.”  Library user says “We fear that such a significant reduction in opening hours will have a major impact on the service provided by the library to the community of all ages in Werrington.””.