Tuesday, 6th November 2012
UK: Library Closures
Source: House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee (UK)
Public libraries providing free access to books and other sources of information are a vital and much-loved service. Recent campaigns against the closure of local libraries have highlighted the strong attachment that many people feel to this service. However, much of the focus of the campaigns has been on library branches rather than the broader question of the preservation—and, if possible, enhancement—of the library service. Reductions in opening hours and the loss of professional staff may damage the service more than the closure of particular buildings, even though premises are clearly key to comprehensive provision.
Local authorities are under considerable financial pressure at present and have to make budgetary decisions swiftly. The provision of a library service is a statutory duty, but a number of councils have drawn up plans that fail to comply with the requirement to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ service....
Although the current crisis may appear to bode ill for the future of public libraries, it also presents an opportunity for a thorough reassessment of their role and of the way they are organised. We were given many examples of innovative thinking about what libraries can offer to the local population, and a number of models of how those services might be provided. Under the pressure of budget cuts, co-operation between library authorities, partnerships with other public and private bodies, development of new services and the greater sharing of good practice open the possibility of providing more flexible, imaginative and efficient library services in future.
Councils which have transferred the running of libraries to community volunteers must, however, continue to give them the necessary support, otherwise they may well wither on the vine and therefore be viewed as closures by stealth.
During our inquiry, the Minister gave us a commitment to produce a report by the end of 2014 on the cumulative effect on library services of the cuts in local authority provision and the promotion of alternatives such as transfers to community volunteers.
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By Adrian Janes
Having begun his career in academic libraries, Adrian Janes is currently an Information Services Librarian with the London Borough of Havering.
In this role, he has particular responsibility for information from both the UK Government and the European Union. He wrote a detailed report on sources for the latter which was published by Free Pint Ltd. in 2007. He is also involved in training and publicising online reference resources and is a regular contributor to DocuTicker.
Adrian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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