Campaigners attack SCL on CIPFA

Campaigners attack SCL on CIPFA

Library campaigners have attacked the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL), after it said CIPFA's annual library report showed libraries expanding their services in line with community need.

CIPFA's report, released last week, showed that 74 static and mobile libraries had closed between April 2012 and April 2013, with expenditure falling, visits dropping by 6% and the number of issues plummeting 8.6%.

Staff numbers at libraries also dropped by 6.8%, in stark contrast to the level of volunteering at libraries, which soared 44.5% over the period.

In a statement, SCL said: "The December 2013 CIPFA figures show that libraries are working to achieve the right balance between maintaining and building upon the service that communities depend on and the necessity to reduce costs. In the face of not only a changing library landscape but completely new ways in which people access information, public libraries have innovated and expanded the services they offer, always in tune with local community need."

It added: "These new ways of working have meant that more members of the community have the opportunity to volunteer in libraries in different roles… SCL is proud to represent a service that in 2013 saw a record number of children take part in the Summer Reading Challenge in libraries–810,089, a 9% increase on participation on 2012–and also the opening of new flagship libraries from Birmingham to Liverpool."

Laura Swaffield, chair of the Library Campaign, attacked the SCL in an open letter, and said she was "shocked and disappointed" at the body's "bland acceptance".

She added: "When branch closures, and the creation of volunteer libraries, are accelerating with no control and no sensible assessment, few would agree that ‘libraries are working to achieve the right balance between maintaining and building upon the service that communities depend on and the necessity to reduce costs’.

"Library users all over the country will be appalled to see the SCL thinks current developments are ‘always in tune with local community need’. The reality is widespread mass protests and complaints of sham consultation."

The row comes as many councils around the country are preparing budgets for 2014/15, with many looking to make savings by making cuts to their library services.

Herefordshire is looking to expand volunteering and reduce its spending on libraries, while this week Nottingham also proposed cutbacks as it looks to save £25.5m from its budget.

Deputy council leader Cllr Graham Chapman told the Nottingham Post that cuts could be made to any non-essential services: "We are talking about the arts, which make an area culturally rich but are not statutory. The library service is also not statutory. They are areas that are vulnerable."

Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide a "comprehensive and efficient" library service under the 1964 Museums and Libraries Act.