Direct to News Release/Summary:
In a report released today, Tuesday 6 November 2012, the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee says that some local authorities, under considerable pressure to quickly find cost savings, have drawn up plans without taking proper account of local needs for library services and the variety of options available to provide them, and are therefore in danger of failing in their statutory duty to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service. Other councils, however, have found innovative and cost-effective ways of continuing to supply – and in some cases improve – their library service.
The Committee says:
Providing a comprehensive and efficient service does not necessarily require keeping open all existing library branches—particularly if retaining buildings results in a token presence with shorter opening hours and fewer professional staff to lead key tasks such as supporting reading skills among children;
Libraries are often hubs of local communities. While the provision of books and electronic access to information remain core tasks, libraries are often used for a far wider range of activities that benefit communities. Co-ordination with other service providers—especially in the areas of education and health—provides opportunities to enhance this. There are many examples of imaginative sharing of buildings and resources;
In the Minister’s view, the wholesale transfer of library branches to volunteer groups is unlikely to meet the statutory criterion of providing a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service; but volunteer-run libraries can be valuable additions to the service;
Councils which have transferred the running of libraries to community volunteers must continue to give them the necessary support to maintain the service, otherwise they may be viewed as “closures by stealth”;
There is scope for far more co-ordination and co-operation between authorities in providing library services. The tri-borough example in London is well-known, but a number of other models and examples of best practice exist.
We’ve embedded PDF versions of the report below.
The committee also praised councils who had shown “innovative thinking” about library services and different ways of providing them, including co-operation between library authorities and partnerships with other public and private bodies.
But it warned that services which had been taken over by community volunteers must continue to be given support or “they may well wither on the vine and therefore be viewed as closures by stealth”.
“It is obvious from widespread recent campaigns and evidence to this inquiry how strongly attached many people feel to public libraries, which are a vital and much-loved service,” Mr Whittingdale said.
“However, library services are about much more than buildings, and the most important issue is finding creative ways to preserve – and, if possible, enhance – library service.”