Comics writer and author Neil Gaiman is among the high profile campaigners who have joined the battle to fight further library closures across the UK – with cash-strapped Lancashire County Council recently joining other local authorities in seeing possible closures as “easy target” when it comes to cuts.
While other councils have announced they plan to cut library services and use more volunteers to run some, reported here by The Bookseller, continuing past attacks on the service documented here, Lancashire, a Labour-run council, seems ahead in terms of what taxpayers may lose, to the dismay of campaigners.
Facing much reduced funding from central government, the Council announced proposals to slash funding in November, reducing funding for cultural sites across the county by 90 per cent and other cuts that will impact public transport users, libraries and see the loss of 367 more jobs. The county’s proposals call for the reduction of libraries from 74 to 34 to save £7 million.
While the council hasn’t identified any of the libraries it may close in its consultation, launched this week, up to 40 may be closed in an effort to save money as a result of reductions in central government funding. Many of these host writers events and comic creator activities, including comics events such as Lancaster Comics Day.
By statute, Local Authorities must provide “comprehensive and efficient” library services and Government must oversee and improve libraries.
These rights are not widely understood and are being neglected in the face of economic pressures. The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, which has launched a national campaign to stop further library closures, says this is putting important principles at risk, including the ability to access a quality library service wherever you live and at times to suit you.
“Public libraries in England provide a lifeline for millions of people every day,” they say, offering an alternative vision for the service. , which has the support if organisations such as the comics-friendly Scottish Book Trust and The Library Campaign.
“They help people get online, develop their literacy and skills, find employment and build stronger ties across their community. We must stand up and defend our statutory right to a quality library service.”
The latest Taking Part report from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport illustrates why reducing public library services will have a disproportionate impact on communities who depend on them for learning, social spaces, groups and activities and access to the Internet (CILIP has a summary of the report here).
CILIP argues the proposed library closures nationally “undermine rights which are enshrined in the Equality Act, Human Rights Act and Public Libraries & Museums Act.”
“We have a situation where our national network of libraries is being dismantled while government fails to provide the guidance that local authorities need to provide the comprehensive and efficient library services they must, by statute, provide,” says Nick Poole, CEO of the organisation, which launched a change.org petition in defence of services before Christmas, noting some 443 libraries have closed since 2010.
“These cuts are a totally false economy – they may or may not deliver limited short-term savings but in reality they do lasting damage to local people, communities and businesses.
“It is too easy to cut libraries because the fact they are statutory isn’t understood, explained or enforced,” he added. “I urge all local authorities considering announcing cuts to libraries to put their plans on hold until there is clarity from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport about their legal duties to provide library services.”
Ian Anstice, librarian and founder of Public Library News, told The Bookseller he agreed that lack of direction from the DCMS is putting services at risk. “Councils are, without any doubt, seeing libraries as highly tempting targets for cuts,” he feels. “They know that the DCMS has not effectively intervened in any reduction to library services so far and thus the value of the statutory status of libraries is highly questionable.”
Lancashire County Council says that despite reduced government funding for its services, it will continue to provide a library service for the communities of Lancashire.
Over the next five years to 2020/21 the council needs to make savings of £262m on top of those agreed within previous budget processes, of which it plans to make
“Our vision of the library service for Lancashire is a place for people across generations to use for personal and community wellbeing, which offers flexible, physical, virtual, creative, spaces for the community,” they claim in the preamble to their consultation. “They will promote access to and use of the resources needed to encourage personal development, learning and community engagement.”
• My Library By Right brings people together to campaign for:
- The public’s rights to libraries to be recognised and respected
- Public libraries to be treated as the statutory services they are
- The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to carry out their legal duties under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act
- Statutory guidance for local authorities on their duties under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act from DCMS, with support from CILIP and the library and information profession