Library closures

Written evidence submitted by John Dougherty (LIB 104)

"What constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century?"

Given that:

· the library service exists to meet the information needs of the public, to provide free access to reading material, and to facilitate public education outside and alongside the education system

and also given that:

· there is a proven link between reading widely for pleasure and academic success (http://www.oecdrccseoul.org/article/the-enjoyment-of-reading-and-its-impact-on-a-childs-success) (https://community.oecd.org/community/educationtoday/blog/2011/09/06/reading-the-virtue-of-pleasure) (http://www.questia.com/googleScholar.qst?docId=5002518685)

· there are proven benefits to supportive parental involvement in early reading  (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-15639642)

then a comprehensive and efficient library service should perform the following functions:

· it should facilitate access to information for both formal and informal research

· it should promote reading for pleasure, especially but not exclusively among children

· it should facilitate the ability of parents to read to their children

· it should make available a wide range of sources and reading matter, particularly those whose cultural importance or significance to a particular field outweighs their commercial profitability

To achieve this, it requires:

· properly and professionally trained and qualified staff. Librarians are not merely stampers of books, as many local authorities have tried to suggest; they are information professionals. Whilst well-intentioned volunteers may supplement the service, they cannot run it

· the ability to access a wide and varied stock of books, including not only books that are currently popular, but also those whose cultural importance outweighs their profitability to bookshops, those that may be reasonably needed for research, and those of interest to minorities. This is not an exclusive list

· proper internet access

· properly equipped premises, easily accessible at convenient times to all members of the community - including the disabled, but also those who live away from the more densely populated areas. Opening hours should likewise take into account the needs of the entire community

"the extent to which planned library closures are compatible with the requirements of the Libraries & Museums Act 1964 and the Charteris Report

It does not seem likely that many of the closures which have been proposed nationally are compatible with either the Act or the Report. Local authorities have been closing or attempting to close libraries, laying off staff, and slashing book budgets in order to save money and for no other reason, although in some cases this has been presented as 'modernising' the service. Arguments about e-books and internet access serving to replace libraries are spurious and do not bear examination. 

"the impact library closures have on local communities".

Library closures restrict access to books for those who most need them - particularly the housebound, the elderly, and children who are learning to read and whose families' budgets cannot keep up with their appetite for books. They restrict the basic human contact needed by the lonely, bereaved and depressed - again, especially those in most need. They deny internet access to those who need it to look for work. They deny the community something important which should be its by rights.

"the effectiveness of the Secretary of State’s powers of intervention under the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964"

The Secretary of State's powers of intervention are only as effective as the Secretary of State him- or herself. Library services in Somerset and my own home county of Gloucestershire have been made subject to unlawful cuts which have only been overturned because private citizens, at tremendous personal cost, have facilitated court action whilst the Secretary of State did nothing. Ironically, the most telling comment on the matter was made in 2009 by then Shadow Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, who said:

"Andy Burnham's refusal to take action in the Wirral effectively renders the 1964 Public Libraries Act meaningless. While it is local authorities' responsibility to provide libraries, the Act very clearly lays responsibility for ensuring a good service at the culture secretary's door. It Andy Burnham is not prepared to intervene when library provision is slashed in a local authority such as the Wirral, it is clear that he is ignoring his responsibilities as secretary of state, which in the process renders any sense of libraries being a statutory requirement for local authorities meaningless."

Exactly the same point could - and should - be made by substituting Jeremy Hunt for Andy Burnham, and (to choose a few examples from many) Gloucestershire, Somerset, Brent, Doncaster, Oxfordshire or the Isle of Wight for the Wirral

Libraries, properly run and properly funded, are essential not only to our cultural well-being but to our economic future. The money-saving closures which are being carried out nationwide are analogous to burning the floorboards to heat the house.

January 2012

Prepared 6th February 2012