Thursday, November 08, 2012

The last page for libraries?

A select committee report shows a worrying decline in the number of people using libraries. To save them we need to visit them, says Sameer Rahim.

Protesters outside Kensal Rise library in Brent, North-West London.
Protesters outside Kensal Rise library in Brent, North-West London. Photo: Oli Scarff

Over the last three years a pitched battle has been fought between English councils keen on streamlining their library service – basically closing small ones to support shiny large ones – and anti-cuts campaigners such as Alan Bennett, who with uncharacteristic overstatement compared library closures to “child abuse”.
Residents in the Wirral in north-west England, and Brent and Camden in London, have pinned their hopes on convincing culture minister Ed Vaizey to personally intervene. Under the terms of a 1964 act of Parliament councils are obliged to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” service to the public – and if they don’t meet the standard, the Secretary of State can force their hand.
However, as a select committee report into library closures published yesterday points out, the 1964 act does not define what “comprehensive and efficient” actually means. Brent’s closure of six libraries last year – subject to a failed legal challenge by residents – could be regarded as making efficient use of scarce resources. Councils are on average having to cut their budgets by 28 per cent under the current spending review. Since the Coalition Government is asking for those cuts it is unsurprisingly wary of intervening.
How much do libraries cost the nation? The committee report has some interesting facts. There are 3,500 libraries in England costing £900 million a year. The question is can this amount be justified given the number of people visiting libraries has declined steeply in the last 20 years.
Full story at The Telegraph

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