Library closures

Written evidence submitted by Lauren Smith (LIB 119)

Summary

· A comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century is one which provides relevant and up to date resources and takes into account the needs of the communities in which they are situated.

· In order to be comprehensive and efficient, library services must employ paid staff who are adequately trained and qualified and work under a clear code of ethical and professional practice.

· A definition of the core service to be expected by citizens is absolutely necessary to enable authorities to work towards (and ideally exceed) a benchmark. National standards should therefore be reintroduced. This should also include specifications for a required level of qualified, paid staff providing the service.

· Councils have little choice but to risk being in breach of the 1964 Act and recommendations of the Charteris Report because they are being forced to implement severe levels of cuts, in a very short period.

· The views and needs of communities have largely been ignored, due in part to the fact that library services have had their hands forced by council leaders who lack understanding of the value of library services, and the necessity to drastically cut public spending.

· There is a significant amount of international academic research providing evidence of the social and economic value of public libraries.

· Library closures will have a significant impact on those who currently or could use them as a source of education or to find employment.

· The ability for the Secretary of State to intervene under the Act is a vital and potentially constructive function.

· However, the current Secretary of State’s lack of action with regard to the most serious cases of local authority misconduct has had a negative impact on the decisions made by other councils.

· Intervention should occur at an early stage to prevent council misconduct.

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

1. Francis Bennion, the barrister who drafted the 1964 Act, intended it to be in "plain English" [1] . The Oxford English Dictionary defines the terms ‘comprehensive’ as being "large in content or scope", and in terms of education as providing for "all levels of intellectual and other ability" [2] . ‘Efficient’ is defined as "adequately operative", and of persons "adequately skilled" [3] .

2. Bennion considered the term "comprehensive and efficient" to mean that authorities are required to provide "Books and other printed matter, and pictures, gramophone records, films and other materials, sufficient in number, range and quality to meet the general requirements and any special requirements both of adults and children". The materials specified in the Act should therefore be updated in line with technological advancements, to include electronic resources such as digital media files, ebooks and databases, as well as the provision of staff who are able to support digital and information literacy.

3. Councils must take into consideration any special requirements of adults and children within their authorities and ensure that libraries are able to provide educational, cultural and leisure resources for them. These may include resources such as autism support [4] and other adaptive technologies [5] , Braille translation services and materials for BME communities.

4. Authorities must provide a library service which is efficient, both in terms of the value for money of the service provided and the degree of skill possessed by those providing the service. This necessitates the provision of trained and qualified paid staff, working under a clear code of ethical and professional practice.

5. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Libraries: Literacy and Information Management:

Report of the Inquiry into the Governance and Leadership of the Public Library

Service in England September 2009 recommended that "the application of the Public Libraries Act 1964 should be clarified by a definition of the minimum level of service (or core service) to be expected by customers" [6] . This is absolutely necessary to ensure that local authorities are able to provide a service which meets the requirements of the Act.

6. The DCMS document ‘Empower, Enrich, Inform’ outlines what should constitute a ‘core offer’ for library services. This should also include specifications for a required level of qualified, paid staff providing the service.

7. Public libraries must remain free at the point of use, as specified in the Act. This should include the use of PCs as well as book-borrowing, because an increasingly large proportion of information and learning resources are available (often exclusively and often more efficiently) online. There is a serious risk of an increased digital divide in the UK, which public libraries are in a unique position to tackle [7] .

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

8. Outcomes of Judicial Reviews in Somerset and Gloucestershire have demonstrated that library closures may not be compatible with the requirements of the 1964 Act and the Charteris Report [8] . A number of councils around the country are making similar decisions based on similarly flawed processes to Gloucestershire and Somerset but do not have the ability to take their councils to court and prove that this is the case. For example, campaign group Save Doncaster Libraries has provided a significant amount of information to demonstrate that Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council’s cuts to the library service are unsustainable and would result in the reduction in levels of a service that is already believed to be potentially in breach of the 1964 Act.

9. Planned library closures have been found to be incompatible with Equalities legislation in Gloucestershire and Somerset – this is likely to be the case in other areas. Where councils have made an effort to "make an assessment of local needs", as the Charteris Report recommends, their findings have been ignored because councils still have to implement swingeing cuts. For example, Doncaster Council’s Equalities Impact Assessment on library closures identified specific impacts on students at Wilsic Hall Autistic School, elderly residents, people with mobility issues and children unable to access alternative venues, people who cannot afford the cost of travelling to alternative venues, people who rely on public transport etc. The closures are still happening in spite of the council’s awareness that some of their most disadvantaged citizens will be severely impacted by the cuts.

10. The Charteris Report identified a lack of "a clear understanding of the extent and range

of services" available through libraries – this is certainly an issue in Doncaster, where the Mayor has publicly stated on local radio that he does not believe it is hard for volunteers to simply stamp out a few books [9] . It is an indication of council leaders’ lack of awareness of the role and value of library services that they are being cut so brutally with so little thought for the work taking place within them by trained and qualified staff.

The impact library closures have on local communities

11. There is significant evidence to suggest that library closures will have a noticeable negative impact on communities and individuals.

12. Library branches are often the only community resource available for people that are free of charge and neutral public spaces. This is of particular importance to marginalised groups within society, who often rely on public libraries as a safe haven as well as a source of information, which improves levels of well-being.

13. A list of academic research and resources providing evidence of the social and economic value of public libraries can be found on the Voices for the Library website [10] .

14. Library closures will have a significant impact on those who currently or could use them as a source of education or to find employment. For example, nearly a quarter of all 16-24 year-olds in Doncaster  are not in education, employment or training. A report by The Work Foundation can be found here .  

15. Research from Glasgow University  has found that young people from deprived areas have higher levels of ambition than tends to be expected. What they lack is  information about how to achieve what they want to. Schools careers offices, careers advice centres, FE and HE institutions and  public libraries give young people access to information about jobs and careers . Public libraries offer people a place to study, access learning resources and careers advice on their doorsteps. They’re  the  natural place for people to access information and an incredibly good value way for councils to achieve their aims to reduce NEET levels.

16. Specific examples of the impact library closures will have on people in Doncaster include:

(A) on Jan 07, 2011


"I do not remember seeing or being asked to fill in any questionnaire about the options for the library service. I should certainly not have made any reply which suggested I was in favour of closing branch libraries, which perform such useful functions:

§ providing reading material for those who cannot afford to buy many books; working with schools to help groups of children enjoy

§ books; provide activities during school holidays which develop reading skills and promote enjoyment of reading in children – boys

§ included! – and enable those without computers who need to use them with access to them.

In addition they provide an essential centre for other vital activities such as running a talking newspapeer for the blind. these are real community spaces, without which the citizens of Doncaster will be truly impoverished."

(B) on Jan 11, 2011


"I take my 3 year old daughter and baby to Bawtry library every week where we receive a lovely warm welcome. We sit and read together then choose books that we read  throughout the week. I have met other mums there and we are signed up to a literacy course there starting soon. I am genuinely upset about the proposed closures, the library was one of the things that encouraged me to move to Bawtry and it will be a huge loss to my family and the community of Bawtry."

(C) on Jan 11, 2011


"I am eleven(11) years old and use moorends library more than two time a week and it keeps me safe and keeps me off of the streets. It is a lovely place to be and keeps me warm."

(D) on Jan 05, 2011


"closing my local wheatley library will be a disaster to me and the children with in my care, this is a service we use on a weekly basis"

(E) on Jan 07, 2011


"As teacher of English, I can assure the Council that this will have a devastating effect on the future of the Conisbrough people. Our library is the lifeblood of the community, serving as a vital Outreach resource and has many other uses including an access and focal point for anyone wishing to raise concerns about local issues.

I am currently studying for an MA at the University of Sheffield and use the library frequently to access the internet and it also serves as an excellent study resource. I can also confirm that this library branch is used frequently by the people of Conisbrough, and it beggars belief that the Council would even consider closing such a valuable community asset."

(F) on Jan 06, 2011


"Having recently moved to Doncaster, (and, of course, joined our local branch library), I am appalled to learn of these proposals. The council clearly haven’t taken into account the needs of the young, the elderly or the infirm; all of whom would have great difficulty in travelling to more distant libraries."

(G) on Jan 06, 2011


"Libraries are a valuable resource for all sections of the community, once they are lost nothing will take the place."

(H) on Jan 07, 2011


"This is a disgrace how can they tell when they are not being used when you don’t have to sign in and out. Also we use the conisbrough library on a regular basis. It is near the local academy so student are able to use it. The closure is failing the community and education."

(I) on Jan 08, 2011


"The list of possible closures now issued would leave an enormous area of the town without a library. Suggesting books could be made available in other council buildings is laughable. Librarians are trained and can help to resource many items. Mobile libraries would not help the disabled who cannot access such vehicles."

(J) on Jan 09, 2011


"If Sprotbrough Library closes I will not be able to use library services as I am not fit enough to carry books between the Central Library and the bus station."

(K) on Jan 09, 2011


"Being a disabled lady I find my local library to be invaluable. Talking books are my lifeline. The magnificent staff at my local library (conisbrough) ensure I am always well provided. We older generation sometimes have few pleasures but reading is extremely high on my agenda. There has always been a library in our village, how intolerable that the  council now feel the need to remove it. It is not just a building to fulfil reading pleasures but so many more services are provided. Save our lovely purpose built building and our thoughtful ,experienced dedicated members of staff. Your cuts are our great loss."

(L) on Jan 10, 2011


As a retired primary school teacher, I strongly believe that free access to books should be available to all the public, especially young children and adults on limited incomes. Many elderly people cannot travel far in order to visit a library.

(M) on Jan 11, 2011


"living in moorends and finding out the library is going to close in a disgrace, i take my children to school looking in the window every day and then after picking them up every night we go to the library and have fun ,the staff there are brilliant ,during school holidays there is always something for me and my children to do there it will be sad to see it go. moorends has nothing other than the library for children please don’t let this one close ."

(N) on Jan 12, 2011


"Local Libraries are a vital resource for promoting children’s language and literacy abilities. Reading encourages children to use their imagination, become creative and provides a good form of entertainment and escapism. Reading with parents and grandparents enhances communication and relationships. Libraries offer so much more for children and adults, they house a wealth of information and are a gateway for many to learn about and access computers and social networks safely.

Our local Library in Moorends provides a much needed resource to our local community where language and literacy skills in children and adults has been identified as an area needing continued improvement and support. Its also a place where children and adults congregate."

(O) on Jan 13, 2011


"I use scawthorpe library regularly and as a pensioner who loves reading I was devastated to hear of closure proposals, I shall be lost without it."

(P) on Jan 14, 2011


"i have used the library in sprotbrough for many years. My children have used it since they were 3 and with them at school they use the library for their homework by using the internet or by reference books. If the council go ahead and close sprotbrough library what are we supposed to do for a library and my kids homework could suffer. I think this is a total disgrace and I’m totally against the closures."

(Q) on Jan 14, 2011


"We live in Wheatley and use our library frequently. I have 3 children, 1 in secondary school, 1 in 6th form and 1 at university who rely on their local library. Wheatley is an under- privileged area and shutting the library would be putting the people and area at an even more disadvantage! My 11yr old has been told to read more by his school, how could that happen if his local library is shut?"

(R) on Jan 17, 2011


"The library that my Mum uses in Warmsworth is a lifeline for her and a lot of other people living nearby. It should not be taken for granted that if the council close Warmsworth library, people like my Mum can travel to the central library in Doncaster for their library books. Instead of a manageable walk for her it would mean walking the same distance to catch a bus into Doncaster and then walking to the other side of Doncaster whilst carrying heavy library books, then doing the same return journey."

36. These comments, the views of 16,000 other people who have signed petitions against the cuts and closures and people who have tried to explain the impact these cuts and closures will have, have been ignored by the council who are forging ahead with their original plans.

The effectiveness of the Secretary of State's powers of intervention under the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964

37. It is the duty of the SoS to oversee national library provision and ensure that councils offer a comprehensive and efficient service. The ability for the Secretary of State to intervene under the Act is a vital and potentially constructive function.

38. However, the current Secretary of State’s lack of action with regard to the most serious cases of local authority misconduct has had a negative impact on the decisions made by other councils, who, with no set of national guidelines to work from, and an inconsistent (and now defunct) support framework from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, have looked to examples in the national media. Having seen the scale of cuts made by some councils under serious time constraints due to the Comprehensive Spending Review, the distinct impression is that the SoS will not intervene in even the most serious cases and other councils can therefore implement equally (and more) severe cuts.

39. The MLA, when extant, provided brief reports about the health of library services around the UK – presumably to the DCMS in order to feed back issues to the SoS. Team North reports identified ‘high-risk’ issues with Doncaster Libraries and Information Services. It should be assumed that the DCMS and Secretary of State have also therefore been aware of the serious problems, however, there has at no point been intervention from the SoS. Intervention should have occurred at an early stage in order to prevent time-consuming planning processes that may not be legally compliant.

January 2012


[1] http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/wordpress/?p=2025

[2] http://0-www.oed.com.wam.leeds.ac.uk/view/Entry/37859?redirectedFrom=comprehensive#eid

[3] http://0-www.oed.com.wam.leeds.ac.uk/view/Entry/59742?redirectedFrom=efficient#eid

[4] http://www.cilip.org.uk/about-us/medalsandawards/libraries-change-lives/pages/lclafinalist09.aspx#board

[5] http://www.worcpublib.org/talkingbook/services/adaptive.htm

[6] http://bit.ly/xM7mS7 (page 19)

[7] http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/wordpress/?p=838

[8] http://foclibrary.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/1611kr01marked-2.pdf

[9] http://audioboo.fm/boos/492943-doncaster-libraries-http-bbc-in-pwnuny-mayor-peter-davies-says-community-librarians-don-t-need-training

[10] http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/wordpress/?page_id=1814

Prepared 6th February 2012