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Libraries are essential, trade tells MPs
12.01.12 | Lisa Campbell
The Booksellers Association has dismissed volunteer-run libraries as "unsustainable", as part of its submission to the Culture, Media & Sport select committee inquiry into library closures. The BA was joined by the Publishers Association and the Society of Authors in sending written statements to the DCMS ahead of the committee's deadline this week (12th).
The three trade bodies each stressed the wider importance of libraries, as well as how closures would affect their members. Campaign groups including The Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries, individual library users and the trade union Unison have also submitted evidence to the committee.
Richard Mollet, chief executive of the PA, said the impact of library closures would be felt across the bookselling industry, as well as affect the cultural and economic well-being of local communities. He said: "Libraries are valued by publishers as a means of developing new audiences and encouraging general enjoyment of reading, thereby complementing the role of the high street. At a time when bookshops are under pressure, this kind of support is crucial." The PA also raised the issue of e-lending models in its submission, it said.
Nicola Solomon, general-secretary of the SoA said libraries were important to reach a wider audience for their books, but also because many authors were heavy users of libraries. The organisation argued school libraries should be statutory in the same way prison libraries were and added: "Many authors are also financially dependent on Public Lending Right, for example a lot of romantic authors with low sales are highly borrowed in libraries. We shouldn't take away the cradles of readers."
The BA argued that the £90m spent on books was "pitiful" and needed to be increased. It said the closures that had already taken place had harmed communities, adding that volunteer-run libraries would not work. "There are no comprehensive guidelines for voluntary-run libraries and we cannot believe they will be sustainable in the long term."
Prominent library campaigner Desmond Clarke warned that around 600 libraries could face closure or transferral into the hands of community groups as local councils around England announce their budget reforms in the run-up to April. Clarke said: "The committee's decision to enquire into library closures indicate they are very much aware of the level of public concern and anger. While people understand that cuts are necessary, there is a strong feeling that these have been disproportionate and too little has been done to improve operational efficiency and reduce the 151 separately managed authorities. There is particular concern that perhaps 600 libraries will be transferred to volunteer groups without any attempt to ensure that the model is sustainable and meets people's needs." Clarke also added one in five library jobs could be made redundant.
The select committee will now review the written evidence and decide on who it will call to give oral evidence to the enquiry, which could begin in as little as two weeks.