One Hell of a change

<p>The death of the public library service is slow.&nbsp;Unlike a limited company there is no moment of liquidation or bankruptcy; the law requiring councils to provide library services, however inadequate, also entitles them to draw taxes to pay for them. Until now.</p>
<p>Local councils today each have a &quot;cabinet&quot;, an inner group of those elected to whom are given the responsibilities of the range of public services and activities. Each member has a portfolio of services for which they must account to the public. They are supported by well-paid (unelected) council officers on whom they depend both for the good conduct of the service and for advice on strategy, but it is the councillor who is ultimately responsible.<br />
Following an election&mdash;whatever the political outcome&mdash;there is almost inevitably a reshuffle&nbsp; and a new person takes over the reins.&nbsp;In the next month almost half of the country&rsquo;s public library services will fall to new people who most likely have no experience of the service or of its recent history. The national government is irrelevant; so are&nbsp;the library profession and all the agencies of both. The only immediate guidance councillors receive will be from those around them whose self-interest is clear: they have their own empires to protect.</p>
<p>This year the electoral transition has a new electricity. Finance officers, all over government but especially in local government, have kept the financial plans for the next few years hidden away until the election has passed, not to be opened until a certain date&mdash;which has now come.</p>
<p>In each council, around the bottles of fine wine, leaders will reveal to their new appointees the horror of the funding crisis. They must now decide how and where to make cuts.&nbsp;These are not easy decisions&mdash;large councils are major financial operations, concerned with social welfare and local infrastructure. Much is at stake, and the public library service is very small and often of very low priority. The councillor who will defend its position may never have used a library and quite probably, as a busy working person, have no interest in or use for reading.&nbsp;Many working people in government&mdash;councillors or officers&mdash;do not read and never have.</p>
<p>There is a balance of guilt,&nbsp;reminiscent of 15th-century Christendom&mdash;&quot;if you close a library you will go to hell for it&quot;&mdash;but that&nbsp;will be easily out-talked by someone needing to provide care for the elderly.&nbsp;All the arguments about how libraries could be more efficient have been lost in the long grass. Just when experience and wisdom&nbsp;are most needed, the service is sadly without them. The tsunami of library closures is about to roll over us.<br />