News

Community-run libraries ‘could charge’

Book borrowers at community-run libraries could be charged for the privilege in future, according to guidance issued by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA).

The Department for Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) asked the MLA in March to prepare guidance for local authorities looking to restructure their library services. Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt wrote to council chiefs late last week to alert them to the finished document, "Community Managed Libraries", which has been uploaded onto the MLA’s website.

Hunt said that the government was "conscious of the current budgetary challenges we are all facing and would encourage you to be creative about how resources can be managed in an efficient way . . . One option may be to consider if a community supported library may assist a local area rather than closing a library."

However, while the MLA guidance praised the various benefits of community-run libraries, it noted there was "nationwide variance from area to area" in the model being used, with some operating within the local statutory library provision and others outside it. It warned that any community libraries operating outside the council’s statutory service would no longer be governed by it, leaving them them free to charge for books and services.

"This might be seen to undermine the fundamental principles and purpose of the library service, and would not reflect the library service as we know it," the MLA said.

The library body also said community management of libraries ran the risk of bringing about "wide varieties in the quality of provision" following the loss of trained staff, and the sustainability of community-managed libraries was "not assured".

It added that there had been limited evidence to work with in order to produce the guidelines because of the scarcity of existing community libraries to draw on.

The review used evidence from 29 existing community libraries—around 1% of England’s total library number. The issues raised in the MLA document follow questions over how volunteer-run libraries would handle child protection issues and criminal record checks, as well as data protection. 

Campaigner Desmond Clarke said the latest guidance showed what a "mess" library strategy was in. "Some councils—and to a degree the DCMS—have grabbed on to the idea of community-managed libraries without thinking it through, and without understanding all the issues and the legal implications. The whole thing has been done on the hoof. To have such an ill-conceived and badly thought-out strategy is frankly an embarrassment. This is bad government."

Clarke added that the people who would be most affected by community-managed libraries would be those in the poorer, rural areas generally targeted for cutbacks: "Not only will they be getting a second-class service but potentially, in some areas, having to pay for it."

Meanwhile, libraries minister Ed Vaizey this week promised that he would not "shy away" from the responsibility to intervene over library closures that breached local authority statutory duties, but said he had not yet received advice that there was a "prima facie case" to do so.

Speaking at a London conference, "The Future of Library Services in the Big Society", Vaizey said he had not yet exercised his power to intervene because there was currently a "fluid situation" in which authorities announcing widespread closures were revising their proposals after local protests. He also argued it was "better to discuss with local authorities before we press the nuclear button".

Vaizey said: "I will call it in where there is a prima facie case that [the local authority] have breached their library duties. I haven’t been given that advice yet."

A spokesperson for the DCMS later declined to elucidate what a "prima facie case" would look like. He said: "All local authorities are different."

Comments: Scroll down for the latest comments and to have your say

By posting on this website you agree to the Bookseller comments policy. Comments go direct to live please be relevant, brief and definitely not abusive. Report any "unsuitable comments by clicking the links"

The guidance appears not to have been written from the perspective of local community groups and does not provide clear advice to such groups. Some local groups have been trying unsuccessfully to get answers to their questions about potential liabilities and other issues when a local community takes responsibility for its library. The Culture Secretary should ensure that DCMS officials can answer these questions.

Funny, I thought they were already paying for it. It's called council tax, isn't it?

This proves three things we have known all along that the cuts are ideological, there is a total lack of leadership and vision in the sector and the DCMS and the MLA are not fit for purpose!

So much that Jeremy Hunt is doing in the library sector almost appears to be an answer to the question "How can we help local councils to get away with the minimum possible and lowest standard of public library service, while continuing to keep as much tax money in the council head offices and town halls and somehow pretending to stay within the law?".

What he should be asking is the opposite - "How can we help local councils provide the best possible library service for their local people within the budgetary constraints they have?"

In the current papers there is no statement of or ambition for the provision of really good libraries- that seems to be forgotten altogether.

These actions of DCMS and MLA- at the minister's behest- are so totally typical of the behaviour of the last government and its officials- one really does wonder if there was any point in the change of politicians at all.

It is, as your other commenters, have so often correctly said, as if central government and local government exist in a perpetual conspiracy to keep each other at bay- with no concern for the public at all.

I think the headline to this story is a bit of a non-story. The aim of the MLA paper was to identify some of the issues surrounding community managed libraries. The paper looks at the current position where some community run libraries are part of the statutory library service and some are not. The paper says that those libraries that are not part of the statutory library service could charge for books and services and that this might be seen as undermining the fundamental principles and purpose of the library service. The MLA paper doesn’t go further than that. Is that really news?

To Bucks Library User. The answer to your question is 'Yes, this certainly is an important news item' and the reason is that there is a deep suspicion and lack of trust among ordinary people about the conduct of councils, government and government agencies about their capability of operating the public library service.

Your own operation in Buckinghamshire is open to serious questioning in respect of the amounts of money that have been taken by the council for operating the library service and the amounts that are now having to be paid by residents to actually operate the libraries over and above their council and national taxation.

Yes, The Bookseller are right to pursue these matters to the extreme; if they had not done so we would already have lost a great deal more of the library service than we have.

Any questions we put to DCMS are totally ignored or come back with "ask your local authority."

For example, we have been informed by the Dorset Association of Parish and Town Councils (DAPTC) that community libraries can only be funded under Section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972. This fund can be used by local councils for any expenditure which is for community benefit. It is severely limited by law - and ours in Charmouth, Dorset, has already been allocated. The Catch 22 is that any lease from DCC must be taken on by the local council - yet the local council, though willing and with sufficient income to do so rather than close completely, cannot legally take it on as it cannot fund running and maintenance costs from section 137 funds.

However, the MLA report clearly shows that local councils are using funds raised from their precepts. So, are DAPTC wrong or have these councils been acting illegally?

Of course, this is not the only query.

We would love to have definitive answers to our questions but, so far, have none from DCMS, MLA, DAPTC, Asset Transfer Unit etc. etc. etc. and we've been asking for months.

Our own authority, Dorset County Council, has a proposal on the table from its own advisory committee, the Policy Development Panel, which would keep all libraries open by efficiency savings with no reduction in hours. You would think Conservative Councillors, the majority, would jump at this opportunity to cut the budget in line with Government guidelines and to reflect the wishes of their electorate but councillors have actually been instructed not to vote for this scheme. Instead, they must vote to close libraries. Why? Who knows? No logical reasons have been put forward.

So it seems all too likely that, if we want to have a library, it will have to be community-run. Even if the legal problems are resolved, we have no "toolkit" to set this up - and this MLA document does not provide one. We can only hope that the next paper they produce does.

Tim, I agree with you about the suspicion, mistrust of the public etc. But I can’t see anything in this particular MLA paper that is particular controversial. It is just describing what is out there. Some people don’t like the concept of a community managed libraries but that doesn’t mean it can’t be the subject of a paper.

I guess if there are community managed libraries outside the statutory library service then that begs the question what is the statutory service to the relevant communities and is it adequate? But that is back in the mainstream debate about the provision of public libraries generally and the gap between what many of the public (including me) think is an adequate public library service and what some Councils and the DCMS think is adequate.

As a practical matter - are there any non-statutory community managed libraries charging for book lending? Isn’t charging for book lending a non-starter when statutory public libraries lend books for free?

I know that that the possibility of charging for books has been raised several times in the last few months by councils (and some campaigners) who are looking for a way to avoid closing libraries. However, I am aware of no British library that charges. Well, there is one, it's the subscription London Library but that lives in such a rarefied atmosphere (£435 p.a.) that it is almost irrelevant.

The fear is all you need is one or two to start charging, perhaps in prosperous areas such as yours, and that would provide a precedent for their local MPs to abhor the lack of it in the surviving public libraries. This is what has already happened with volunteer-run libraries - your successful library (and the few others) are being used as an example for all authorities, regardless of their relevance to the location. The fear is, in these current ideology-heavy and desperation-driven times, it only takes one.

Interestingly, the report does also draw attention that the legal side of all of moving libraries to volunteers is not settled yet. It talks about the possibility of case law coming into being. Of course, it is not the DCMS that is pushing this - heavens no. Instead, they are effectively subcontracting out the legal burden to campaigners up and down the country.

The report, while surprisingly balanced, ends in a paragraph that includes "he door is open for local authorities not simply to transfer libraries to community management to ensure efficiencies, but to work with communities to transition the process".

"The door is open" is the phrase that jumped out to me.

Bucks library user-- if it has to be spelled out to you to help others- across the country we pay for a public library service so that book lending within those libraries, available to all wish to use them, is free. Many other services are also provided in those libraries.

The responsbility for providing those libraries lies with the councils who have been designated 'library authorities' - in your case, for example, Buckinghamshire County Council. There is an Act of Parliament which lays this down. Whatever method is used by the council to provide the service, it is their responsibilty to each individual and community to provide the service in the county.

There is much talk at present of communities contributing to the effort that is needed to operate the libraries, because, for example, funds are less than they were. There is even talk that those libraries could have one of a variety of kinds of community management.

However, the current law still applies and whatever arrangement the county council may come to with local residents, the responsibility for providing the library service still lies with the county council and the service still has to be free.

Therefore the implication in a report written apparently for the DCMS that somehow a library designated as 'a community library' could somehow lie outisde the responsibility of the county council and somehow could charge for book lending, is no less than a susggestion that either the law should be changed, or that councils should break it.

And then- given that not only the public but Ministers and MP's have constantly repeated their enduring belief in the importance of this law- to find that there are suggestions that it should be altered are broken at a time of deep suspicion, as you describe, is deeply controversial .

Those of us who have fought to make councils and the DCMS act responsibly within the law, are fearful of all the attempts to circumvent or dilute it - and that is what we see here.

Perhaps you should say where you are.

Tim, aren't you inventing a problem where there isn’t one?

A non-statutory community library is by definition not part of the public library service provided by a Council under the 1964 Act. A non-statutory library can do what it likes - it can charge for lending books or perhaps only allow paying subscribers to borrow its books like the London Library mentioned above. Such a library is a) nothing to do with statutory public library service b) nothing to do with the Council. The Council has to provide a public library service to the residents in the area of the non-statutory community library.

A library run by a local community could be part of statutory public library service if it provides a service in accordance the criteria laid down in the 1964 Act and is designated by the Council as part of the Council’s statutory library service. The Council would need to be satisfied that the community run library was the best way to meet the ‘comprehensive and efficient’ requirement for the particular locality. The Community Library would almost certainly have an agreement with the Council on the details of the service to be provided. The agreement would not allow charging for book lending. The Council would need to pay the Community Library the cost of running the local statutory library service.

The MLA paper merely pointed out that a non-statutory community library could charge for lending books. That’s nothing new. So what is the story?

Tim, any chance you could stop wilfully missing the points made by Buckslibraryuser - who it appears knows more about the situation in his/her library service than you?

Similarly, please drop the idea that you somehow know what "ordinary people" think. That is extraordinarily arrogant. I am a library user. So is my wife, so are my kids.

You don't speak for me.

"These actions of DCMS and MLA- at the minister's behest- are so totally typical of the behaviour of the last government and its officials- one really does wonder if there was any point in the change of politicians at all. "

Wow, Coatesy! You berate MLA for doing things "at the minister's behest".

Whoever heard of such a reprehensible and evil thing! It sounds as if public servants are doing things at the instruction of their democratically elected masters. How outrageous is that? Disgusting!

If you don't like it then go for the minister and the minister alone. Campaign for him or his party to be unseated. Otherwise lay off the coward's option of slagging off those who do the politician's bidding as their job dictates and cannot respond to internet innuendo.

The naivity on here is breathtaking, but then so is the hypocrisy of the anonymous commentator above attacking Tim Coates for "internet innuendo". Tim is absolutely right to take the MLA/DCMS to task for decisions made on their patch. Would you rather we sat quietiy as the public library service is dismantled book by book. Here is the story: the gov is encouraging community run libraries, and has now established that they will be able to charge for book lending. The historical commitment to the provision of free information is gently frittered away. But some on here would rather we didn't shine a light on this. I wonder where they work? For 'ordinary library users' they appear frightfully informed about the intricacies of the network.

To Bucks library user... I think the answer to your question lies in the text of Jeremy Hunt's letter, which is quoted at the top of the article, to local councils.

In discussing how they can meet their statutory obligations to provide a public library service when resources are limited he suggests that 'a community supported library may assist...'

I take that to mean that such libraries may be used to assist the council in the provision of of their statutory service, and it is to that that I take exception and am trying to draw attention.

As to the anonymous person from the DCMS or MLA who objects to my pointing out their role- I think that those civil servants had an obligation to point out to the minister what the 1964 Act actually says- so that he could have been alert to the wrongfulness of what he wrote to councils.

That we have come to expect such second rate behaviour from civil or so-called public servants, I do not withdraw. Rather than being fed up and defensive - they should improve.

Increasingly, it seems that individual councils are determining what amount of library service they should provide to ensure compliance with statutory obligations, as opposed to central government (which is supposed to be supervising compliance). Isn't this a case of 'the tail wagging the dog'?
How can an individual library that was formally part of an authority's statutory service, but is now run by a community group, suddenly and arbitrarily be no longer part of that statutory service?
Desmond Clarke is perfectly correct to call the present excuse for a library strategy a 'mess' and 'an embarassment'. 'Shambolic' is perhaps an even more appropriate label, given the increasingly rapid disintegration of what used to be a functional, effective and highly thought-of national library network.
Desmond also correctly indentifies the danger of some residents being forced to pay for a second-class service. And this after they have ALREADY paid for their comprehensive and efficient library services via taxation.

Tim Coates has correctly identified a serious legal issue (which buckslibraryuser and Anonymous2222222222222 appear to conveniently gloss over) concerning statutory obligation.
If a council has been operating a network of 24 libraries for many years, it could be assumed that this was regarded as the minimum infrastructure that is required to meet its statutory obligations, in terms of library services.
If suddenly half those libraries are either closed, or alternatively, turned over to the community and labelled as 'non-statutory' to be run on the cheap - possibly with new charges for borrowing, how can this be construed as continuing to meet statutory responsibilities?
'Lack of money' appears to be being wheeled out constantly as an excuse for what could be interpreted as 'bending the law' and for reducing access to services that people are continuing to pay for. I haven't noticed any reduction in Council Tax to correlate with the decimation of, or 'hiving off' of the public library service.

Over months, nay years, I corresponded with Roy Clare, former CEO of MLA, asking him to include the voice of library users in formulating strategies for the Library Service -- quite amicably and respectfully -- to absolutely no avail. I begged him to have the courage and integrity to advise Margaret Hodge and subsequently Ed Vaizey to listen, but he chose not to.

Then, in January this year, Mr Clare openly displayed his contempt for anyone and everyone in the "outside" world that his quango and DCMS did not inhabit -- in the Daily Mail -- following it up with a vicious verbal attack on a small girl trying to save her library in Buckinghamshire.

Public servants, paid generously by the taxpayer, who consistently display arrogance, are patronising or even deeply unpleasant may well not deserve our forlock-tugging respect. If such people have the interests of the nation's public library service and its users as their remit, it behoves them to stand up for some basic principles and advise the government of the day accordingly (which I understand is their job) even -- gasp, shock horror -- if that results in them losing their position or putting at risk their own advancement.

The cartoon featured on the home page of my website, shows an Admiral digging a hole for the interment of the 1964 Act; Ed Vaizey stomping off; and Jeremy hunt reading the funeral rites. Last year Roy Clare was tickled pink by it. It does not seem at all funny now : http://www.friendsofoldtownlibrary.co.uk/

[please view link in Explorer]

Quite so

The guidance appears not to have been written from the perspective of local community groups and does not provide clear advice to such groups. Some local groups have been trying unsuccessfully to get answers to their questions about potential liabilities and other issues when a local community takes responsibility for its library. The Culture Secretary should ensure that DCMS officials can answer these questions.

Funny, I thought they were already paying for it. It's called council tax, isn't it?

Quite so

This proves three things we have known all along that the cuts are ideological, there is a total lack of leadership and vision in the sector and the DCMS and the MLA are not fit for purpose!

So much that Jeremy Hunt is doing in the library sector almost appears to be an answer to the question "How can we help local councils to get away with the minimum possible and lowest standard of public library service, while continuing to keep as much tax money in the council head offices and town halls and somehow pretending to stay within the law?".

What he should be asking is the opposite - "How can we help local councils provide the best possible library service for their local people within the budgetary constraints they have?"

In the current papers there is no statement of or ambition for the provision of really good libraries- that seems to be forgotten altogether.

These actions of DCMS and MLA- at the minister's behest- are so totally typical of the behaviour of the last government and its officials- one really does wonder if there was any point in the change of politicians at all.

It is, as your other commenters, have so often correctly said, as if central government and local government exist in a perpetual conspiracy to keep each other at bay- with no concern for the public at all.

As usual, Tim Coates completely unable to keep his self-interest at bay.

All that J Hunt and E Vaizey are currently interested in is cutting costs, and not being exposed as lazy, stupid, or venal.

I think the headline to this story is a bit of a non-story. The aim of the MLA paper was to identify some of the issues surrounding community managed libraries. The paper looks at the current position where some community run libraries are part of the statutory library service and some are not. The paper says that those libraries that are not part of the statutory library service could charge for books and services and that this might be seen as undermining the fundamental principles and purpose of the library service. The MLA paper doesn’t go further than that. Is that really news?

To Bucks Library User. The answer to your question is 'Yes, this certainly is an important news item' and the reason is that there is a deep suspicion and lack of trust among ordinary people about the conduct of councils, government and government agencies about their capability of operating the public library service.

Your own operation in Buckinghamshire is open to serious questioning in respect of the amounts of money that have been taken by the council for operating the library service and the amounts that are now having to be paid by residents to actually operate the libraries over and above their council and national taxation.

Yes, The Bookseller are right to pursue these matters to the extreme; if they had not done so we would already have lost a great deal more of the library service than we have.

Any questions we put to DCMS are totally ignored or come back with "ask your local authority."

For example, we have been informed by the Dorset Association of Parish and Town Councils (DAPTC) that community libraries can only be funded under Section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972. This fund can be used by local councils for any expenditure which is for community benefit. It is severely limited by law - and ours in Charmouth, Dorset, has already been allocated. The Catch 22 is that any lease from DCC must be taken on by the local council - yet the local council, though willing and with sufficient income to do so rather than close completely, cannot legally take it on as it cannot fund running and maintenance costs from section 137 funds.

However, the MLA report clearly shows that local councils are using funds raised from their precepts. So, are DAPTC wrong or have these councils been acting illegally?

Of course, this is not the only query.

We would love to have definitive answers to our questions but, so far, have none from DCMS, MLA, DAPTC, Asset Transfer Unit etc. etc. etc. and we've been asking for months.

Our own authority, Dorset County Council, has a proposal on the table from its own advisory committee, the Policy Development Panel, which would keep all libraries open by efficiency savings with no reduction in hours. You would think Conservative Councillors, the majority, would jump at this opportunity to cut the budget in line with Government guidelines and to reflect the wishes of their electorate but councillors have actually been instructed not to vote for this scheme. Instead, they must vote to close libraries. Why? Who knows? No logical reasons have been put forward.

So it seems all too likely that, if we want to have a library, it will have to be community-run. Even if the legal problems are resolved, we have no "toolkit" to set this up - and this MLA document does not provide one. We can only hope that the next paper they produce does.

Tim, I agree with you about the suspicion, mistrust of the public etc. But I can’t see anything in this particular MLA paper that is particular controversial. It is just describing what is out there. Some people don’t like the concept of a community managed libraries but that doesn’t mean it can’t be the subject of a paper.

I guess if there are community managed libraries outside the statutory library service then that begs the question what is the statutory service to the relevant communities and is it adequate? But that is back in the mainstream debate about the provision of public libraries generally and the gap between what many of the public (including me) think is an adequate public library service and what some Councils and the DCMS think is adequate.

As a practical matter - are there any non-statutory community managed libraries charging for book lending? Isn’t charging for book lending a non-starter when statutory public libraries lend books for free?

I know that that the possibility of charging for books has been raised several times in the last few months by councils (and some campaigners) who are looking for a way to avoid closing libraries. However, I am aware of no British library that charges. Well, there is one, it's the subscription London Library but that lives in such a rarefied atmosphere (£435 p.a.) that it is almost irrelevant.

The fear is all you need is one or two to start charging, perhaps in prosperous areas such as yours, and that would provide a precedent for their local MPs to abhor the lack of it in the surviving public libraries. This is what has already happened with volunteer-run libraries - your successful library (and the few others) are being used as an example for all authorities, regardless of their relevance to the location. The fear is, in these current ideology-heavy and desperation-driven times, it only takes one.

Interestingly, the report does also draw attention that the legal side of all of moving libraries to volunteers is not settled yet. It talks about the possibility of case law coming into being. Of course, it is not the DCMS that is pushing this - heavens no. Instead, they are effectively subcontracting out the legal burden to campaigners up and down the country.

The report, while surprisingly balanced, ends in a paragraph that includes "he door is open for local authorities not simply to transfer libraries to community management to ensure efficiencies, but to work with communities to transition the process".

"The door is open" is the phrase that jumped out to me.

Bucks library user-- if it has to be spelled out to you to help others- across the country we pay for a public library service so that book lending within those libraries, available to all wish to use them, is free. Many other services are also provided in those libraries.

The responsbility for providing those libraries lies with the councils who have been designated 'library authorities' - in your case, for example, Buckinghamshire County Council. There is an Act of Parliament which lays this down. Whatever method is used by the council to provide the service, it is their responsibilty to each individual and community to provide the service in the county.

There is much talk at present of communities contributing to the effort that is needed to operate the libraries, because, for example, funds are less than they were. There is even talk that those libraries could have one of a variety of kinds of community management.

However, the current law still applies and whatever arrangement the county council may come to with local residents, the responsibility for providing the library service still lies with the county council and the service still has to be free.

Therefore the implication in a report written apparently for the DCMS that somehow a library designated as 'a community library' could somehow lie outisde the responsibility of the county council and somehow could charge for book lending, is no less than a susggestion that either the law should be changed, or that councils should break it.

And then- given that not only the public but Ministers and MP's have constantly repeated their enduring belief in the importance of this law- to find that there are suggestions that it should be altered are broken at a time of deep suspicion, as you describe, is deeply controversial .

Those of us who have fought to make councils and the DCMS act responsibly within the law, are fearful of all the attempts to circumvent or dilute it - and that is what we see here.

Perhaps you should say where you are.

Tim, aren't you inventing a problem where there isn’t one?

A non-statutory community library is by definition not part of the public library service provided by a Council under the 1964 Act. A non-statutory library can do what it likes - it can charge for lending books or perhaps only allow paying subscribers to borrow its books like the London Library mentioned above. Such a library is a) nothing to do with statutory public library service b) nothing to do with the Council. The Council has to provide a public library service to the residents in the area of the non-statutory community library.

A library run by a local community could be part of statutory public library service if it provides a service in accordance the criteria laid down in the 1964 Act and is designated by the Council as part of the Council’s statutory library service. The Council would need to be satisfied that the community run library was the best way to meet the ‘comprehensive and efficient’ requirement for the particular locality. The Community Library would almost certainly have an agreement with the Council on the details of the service to be provided. The agreement would not allow charging for book lending. The Council would need to pay the Community Library the cost of running the local statutory library service.

The MLA paper merely pointed out that a non-statutory community library could charge for lending books. That’s nothing new. So what is the story?

Tim, any chance you could stop wilfully missing the points made by Buckslibraryuser - who it appears knows more about the situation in his/her library service than you?

Similarly, please drop the idea that you somehow know what "ordinary people" think. That is extraordinarily arrogant. I am a library user. So is my wife, so are my kids.

You don't speak for me.

"These actions of DCMS and MLA- at the minister's behest- are so totally typical of the behaviour of the last government and its officials- one really does wonder if there was any point in the change of politicians at all. "

Wow, Coatesy! You berate MLA for doing things "at the minister's behest".

Whoever heard of such a reprehensible and evil thing! It sounds as if public servants are doing things at the instruction of their democratically elected masters. How outrageous is that? Disgusting!

If you don't like it then go for the minister and the minister alone. Campaign for him or his party to be unseated. Otherwise lay off the coward's option of slagging off those who do the politician's bidding as their job dictates and cannot respond to internet innuendo.

Over months, nay years, I corresponded with Roy Clare, former CEO of MLA, asking him to include the voice of library users in formulating strategies for the Library Service -- quite amicably and respectfully -- to absolutely no avail. I begged him to have the courage and integrity to advise Margaret Hodge and subsequently Ed Vaizey to listen, but he chose not to.

Then, in January this year, Mr Clare openly displayed his contempt for anyone and everyone in the "outside" world that his quango and DCMS did not inhabit -- in the Daily Mail -- following it up with a vicious verbal attack on a small girl trying to save her library in Buckinghamshire.

Public servants, paid generously by the taxpayer, who consistently display arrogance, are patronising or even deeply unpleasant may well not deserve our forlock-tugging respect. If such people have the interests of the nation's public library service and its users as their remit, it behoves them to stand up for some basic principles and advise the government of the day accordingly (which I understand is their job) even -- gasp, shock horror -- if that results in them losing their position or putting at risk their own advancement.

" If such people have the interests of the nation's public library service and its users as their remit, it behoves them to stand up for some basic principles and advise the government of the day accordingly (which I understand is their job) even -- gasp, shock horror -- if that results in them losing their position or putting at risk their own advancement."

So, what you're suggesting is that public servants should deliberately risk their jobs, and thus their salaries, homes and the interests of their families?

Someone's been reading too much in the Daily Mail about gold plated pensions and grotesque salaries.

The naivity on here is breathtaking, but then so is the hypocrisy of the anonymous commentator above attacking Tim Coates for "internet innuendo". Tim is absolutely right to take the MLA/DCMS to task for decisions made on their patch. Would you rather we sat quietiy as the public library service is dismantled book by book. Here is the story: the gov is encouraging community run libraries, and has now established that they will be able to charge for book lending. The historical commitment to the provision of free information is gently frittered away. But some on here would rather we didn't shine a light on this. I wonder where they work? For 'ordinary library users' they appear frightfully informed about the intricacies of the network.

I think it's long been obvious to anyone familiar with 'buckslibraryuser', beyond this site, that he's someone acting for someone else.

Ordinary library users, when asked their opinion, away from pseudo-consultations, and sundry manipulations.... just say that they do not want to run their library themselves. This is the knub of what is going on right now in many places, including my county, Somerset.

In addition to this, I don't want my library run by local worthies, church groups, friends of the local Conservatives Associations.. etc. Do you get my drift?

To Bucks library user... I think the answer to your question lies in the text of Jeremy Hunt's letter, which is quoted at the top of the article, to local councils.

In discussing how they can meet their statutory obligations to provide a public library service when resources are limited he suggests that 'a community supported library may assist...'

I take that to mean that such libraries may be used to assist the council in the provision of of their statutory service, and it is to that that I take exception and am trying to draw attention.

As to the anonymous person from the DCMS or MLA who objects to my pointing out their role- I think that those civil servants had an obligation to point out to the minister what the 1964 Act actually says- so that he could have been alert to the wrongfulness of what he wrote to councils.

That we have come to expect such second rate behaviour from civil or so-called public servants, I do not withdraw. Rather than being fed up and defensive - they should improve.

Increasingly, it seems that individual councils are determining what amount of library service they should provide to ensure compliance with statutory obligations, as opposed to central government (which is supposed to be supervising compliance). Isn't this a case of 'the tail wagging the dog'?
How can an individual library that was formally part of an authority's statutory service, but is now run by a community group, suddenly and arbitrarily be no longer part of that statutory service?
Desmond Clarke is perfectly correct to call the present excuse for a library strategy a 'mess' and 'an embarassment'. 'Shambolic' is perhaps an even more appropriate label, given the increasingly rapid disintegration of what used to be a functional, effective and highly thought-of national library network.
Desmond also correctly indentifies the danger of some residents being forced to pay for a second-class service. And this after they have ALREADY paid for their comprehensive and efficient library services via taxation.

Tim Coates has correctly identified a serious legal issue (which buckslibraryuser and Anonymous2222222222222 appear to conveniently gloss over) concerning statutory obligation.
If a council has been operating a network of 24 libraries for many years, it could be assumed that this was regarded as the minimum infrastructure that is required to meet its statutory obligations, in terms of library services.
If suddenly half those libraries are either closed, or alternatively, turned over to the community and labelled as 'non-statutory' to be run on the cheap - possibly with new charges for borrowing, how can this be construed as continuing to meet statutory responsibilities?
'Lack of money' appears to be being wheeled out constantly as an excuse for what could be interpreted as 'bending the law' and for reducing access to services that people are continuing to pay for. I haven't noticed any reduction in Council Tax to correlate with the decimation of, or 'hiving off' of the public library service.

The cartoon featured on the home page of my website, shows an Admiral digging a hole for the interment of the 1964 Act; Ed Vaizey stomping off; and Jeremy hunt reading the funeral rites. Last year Roy Clare was tickled pink by it. It does not seem at all funny now : http://www.friendsofoldtownlibrary.co.uk/

[please view link in Explorer]

To Shirley Burnham:

"Public servants, paid generously by the taxpayer, who consistently display arrogance, are patronising or even deeply unpleasant may well not deserve our forlock-tugging respect. If such people have the interests of the nation's public library service and its users as their remit, it behoves them to stand up for some basic principles and advise the government of the day accordingly (which I understand is their job) even -- gasp, shock horror -- if that results in them losing their position or putting at risk their own advancement."

Can I just point out that the vast majority of 'public servants' are just normal people doing a job providing services which our society has deemed essential, with a real life and real bills to pay - INCLUDING taxes. They are taxpayers, too and they don't get a staff discount. What they do get is an awful lot of people whingeing about what a waste of money they are. They do try to stand up for themselves, and in doing so put their jobs at risk and are generally ignored anyway on the grounds that they have a vested interest. And yes, they are worried about losing their jobs and careers - who isn't?

"they are worried about losing their jobs and careers - who isn't?"

Well, Shirley Burnham and Tim Coates obviously.

Maybe if they understood what it was like to lose your job and your family's home they would be more circumspect in what they post on the internet.