The Women's Institute has expressed "disappointment" with the newly published Future Libraries Programme, the government backed report that made recommendations like putting libraries in the hands of community groups.
The report has been hailed by culture minister Ed Vaizey as "a hugely useful resource, inspiring local authorities to emulate the best ideas to provide a first rate library service”. Other recommendations in the report, "Future Libraries: Change, Options and How to Get There", included private sector funding and self-service borrowing points in shops and village halls.
However, Ruth Bond, chair of the National Federation of Women's Institutes, joined critics of the report by commenting that anyone looking for real leadership would be "sorely disappointed" in it. She said: "The minister discusses balancing the changing needs of communities with budget pressures, yet beneath the promising rhetoric on innovation and creativity, this report paints a picture of a service under threat."
Replacing trained staff with volunteers is a false economy, Bond warned. "Volunteers have an important role to play but they are not a replacement for a professional service and we would welcome more detail on the evidence to support the claim that 'local people want to play a more active role in running libraries'," she said.
Meanwhile, Labour shadow culture minister Gloria de Piero said she felt the government was "using the word modernisation to cut back on a valuable service". She said: "If volunteers want to help out in a library, that's great, but being a librarian is a professional job so I would be extremely sceptical if the service was not compromised if a library was run entirely by volunteers. Library closures are not the fault of local councils which have been lumped with savage and front loaded budget cuts. The fingerprints on the library murder weapon belong to the chancellor. Jeremy Hunt and Ed Vaizey have stood by and let these cuts happen. They will never be a champion for libraries."