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Campaigners welcome Vaizey's reach-out to CILIP
13.03.12 | Lisa Campbell
Library campaigners have welcomed MP Ed Vaizey’s offer to speak with the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) about library staffing levels but others have condemned the culture minster for offering “too little, too late”.
As library campaigners from several different groups gathered at the Central Methodist Hall in London to rally against the nationwide closures, Vaizey was cross-examined by the DCMS select committee enquiry—a day long-awaited by protestors.
While giving evidence Vaizey appeared to u-turn on his opposition to a library development agency. In response to a question by Corby MP Louise Mensch about how reducing the numbers of professional librarians would impact on the service, he said that he would discuss staffing levels with CILIP chief executive Annie Mauger.
Vaizey said: “I would be delighted to sit down with Annie Mauger and discuss the research she has undertaken . . . and to work with the Arts Council and local authorities where there might be concerns about the reduction of staff, but I do think people should meet half way. I do not think we should see this as an either/or—we have a library service either completely supported by librarians or completely supported by volunteers.”
He added that reducing the number of staff and handing some libraries over to be run by volunteers didn’t necessarily mean a reduction in libraries, citing a library which opened in a pub in North Yorkshire and one which sprang up in a phone box in America as examples of “innovative” thinking.
“I think we should be thinking creatively and local authorities can open more libraries,” Vaizey told the enquiry, which met in Committee Room 15 in the Houses of Parliament.
During the session, Vaizey also mentioned he would want to work more closely with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIFA) to look at how money on libraries was spent. Yesterday, The Bookseller reported library campaigners had called on Vaizey to ensure libraries are run more shrewdly rather than closing them down, after analysis of CIFA stats revealed inefficiencies.
Vaizey said: “I think we need to look at the CIFA statistics and look at what they actually do and flag up in terms of spending.” He also added that contrary to accusations, the department wasn’t sitting “idly by” while closures took place but was consulting with local authorities who wish to reorganise their library service.
Vaizey also said that where possible, he thought it would be a good idea for local authorities to merge library services, however he conceded that the idea is "a very contentious point in the circles that I move in . . . We should look at the structures and provision where we can and see if there are any opportunities for mergers. Unfortunately it is a decision for local councils,” he said.
The select committee also solicited a “commitment” from Vaizey to review the impact closures and staff reductions have had in 2014.
However, Mauger said: “I fear by then it will be too late. He needs to be acting now.” She added: “Overall I welcome the fact he wants to have a discussion with us.” On Vaizey supporting library mergers, Mauger said: “The positive part of that decision is it is about saving money that should be used on providing a frontline service.”
Speaking from the library rally where supporters were watching Vaizey give evidence live on a big screen, library campaigner Desmond Clarke said: “I think the general impression here is it is too little too late. Vaizey seems to be waiting for the select committee to tell him what to do, it feels like there is no leadership. However I welcome his calls for libraries to merge services to save money and spend them on frontline services.”
At the rally, shadow culture minister Dan Jarvis said Vaizey risked becoming the “Dr Beeching” of libraries.
Photo: (l-r) NFWI chair, Ruth Bond; Dave Prentis, UNISON General Secretary; Laura Swaffield, Chair of the Library Campaign; Annie Maugher, CILIP chief executive; Alan Gibbons, children’s author and Campaign for the Book (credit Steve Forest)