Authors Ali Smith, Neil Gaiman and Joanna Trollope have led a wave of “tremendous support” for CILIP’s legal fight for libraries as its campaign petition tops 7,000 signatures.
The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals' (CILIP's) My Library By Right campaign, which aims to hold the government to account over its legal responsibilities to provide library services, has been bolstered by "high-profile" support from the authors and also former poet laureate and chair of the museums, libraries and archives council, Sir Andrew Motion.
The petition to the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, John Whittingdale, calls on the government to act to protect people’s statutory right to a quality library service and has been signed by more than 7,000 people, including Labour Walsall South MP Valerie Vaz, who is currently protesting against cuts to libraries in Walsall.
CILIP argues that the public’s rights and government’s responsibilities with regard to libraries are not widely understood and that the statutory nature of library services has been ignored, allowing the withdrawal of financial and political support for public libraries in England.
Smith, whose latest book Public Library and Other Stories (Hamish Hamilton) directly references the current threats to public libraries, has emphasised the illegality of such widespread cuts to libraries services.
“The 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act affirmed the Public Libraries Act of 1850 and neither act has been rescinded – the closures are against the law," she said. "Democracy of reading, democracy of space: that's our library tradition, it was incredibly hard won for us by the generations before us, and we should be protecting it not just for ourselves but in the name of every generation after us.”
Motion said: “A healthy library service means a healthy society. This government and its predecessor has systematically undermined or ignored such a notion, and the present campaign by CILIP is profoundly welcome.”
Joanna Trollope said that libraries "cost so very little to run" and are "so crucial to the nation's well being, and future."
“The UK - ranked near the bottom in the OECD’s recent survey of literacy levels in the world’s most developed countries - is in absolutely no position to dare to close one single public library," she said.
Nick Poole, CILIP's c.e.o., praised the "tremendous support" the campaign has received.
"So many people care about what is happening to library services in this country," he said. "Public libraries across the country are doing fantastic work, and these cuts are a false economy – they may or may not deliver limited short-term savings but in reality they do lasting damage to local people, communities and businesses. We are very clearly asking the government to take action, to meet its duties under English law and to comply with people’s right to quality library services enshrined in three important acts of law.”
His calls have been supported by Society of Authors c.e.o Nicola Solomon, who said library closures have had a "devastating, long-lasting and irreparable effect on local communities" as well as on the wider community and the nation.
"The government is failing in its statutory obligations to prevent these devastating closures and must act now to avoid irreparable damage,” she said.
Campaign supporters and the library community are gearing up for the annual nationwide celebration of libraries for National Libraries Day on Saturday 6th February, and the campaign will take its concerns to parliament on Tuesday 9th February in a parliamentary lobby led by the Speak Up For Libraries coalition. The campaign is based on legal advice from human rights barrister Eric Metcalfe of Monckton Chambers.
Following government cuts to local authority budgets, dozens of libraries across the country are under threat as councils review their budgets before the new financial year in April, with some already revealing plans for severe reductions to their library services.
Recent figures from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accounting (CIPFA) revealed that a total of 106 libraries have closed in the UK between April 2014 and April 2015, while library funding has been cut by £50m.
Since David Cameron became prime minister in 2010, visits to libraries have fallen by 14% and library funding has been cut by more than £180m– a drop of 16%. Meanwhile overall library numbers have fallen by 343 in that time.