Authors speak out on Staffordshire libraries

Authors speak out on Staffordshire libraries

Authors Jacqueline Wilson and Alan Gibbons have spoken out in defence of libraries as part of a BBC examination of library services in Staffordshire.

"Sunday Politics" West Midlands edition devoted a segment yesterday (29th June) to looking at library services in the county, where the local authority is considering turning 23 of its 43 libraries over to volunteers. The move, which is currently being consulted on, could save the council £1.3m over three years.

Conservative councillor Mike Lawrence defended the decision to invite volunteers to take on the running of some libraries, saying: "We're doing this because we don't want libraries to close. The cabinet are insistent that no libraries will close because of this programme." However, Labour councillor John Taylor expressed his doubts, and said: "I'm not confident at all that no libraries will close, how will they achieve that… If they can't get enough volunteers to run it on almost a full time basis then how are they going to keep it open?

The programme spoke to volunteers at a library in Warwickshire, where the council has warned the group that rents will have to be applied at market rate after three years, with volunteers concerned that the price will be too high to keep the community library going.

Jacqueline Wilson said that while she appreciated the demands on council budgets, "I seriously feel that libraries are so important." Alan Gibbons was also interviewed, and warned that increasing the number of volunteers would not improve libraries. "You don't get the same service," he said. "Volunteers should be supplementing professional librarians, not replacing them."

He added: "It's likely that areas that don't have retired professionals then what will happen is you will get a postcode lottery." He attacked Ed Vaizey as "utterly incompetent" and bemoaned the lack of leadership for libraries, and said: "There is no reason why the seventh richest country in the world should be cutting libraries and librarians and handing them over to a uncertain future."

Panellists on the programme, Labour MP David Wright and Conservative MP Caroline Spelman, both said that libraries were the responsibility of local authorities to decide on.