Campaigners urge government to stand up for libraries

<p>Somerset library campaigner Steve Ross and children&#39;s writer Michael Morpurgo called on the government to &quot;stand up&quot; for libraries on Radio 4&#39;s &quot;You and Yours&quot; as part of the show&#39;s debate into library closures. But culture minister Ed Vaizey, who in opposition was vocal in his support for libraries, did not appear on the show despite being asked. A spokeswoman for the Department of Media, Culture and Sport confirmed that Vaizey had been approached, but said he &quot;wasn&#39;t available&quot;.</p><p>Ross, who is fighting proposed library closures in Somerset and has now called for a national inquiry into the public library service, said a debate needed to happen before decisions were made on closing individual libraries. He said: &quot;We need government leadership now to tell us what we need, in order for libraries to meet the challenges of the 21st century. It is bigger than just books.&quot;<br /><br />Morpurgo said libraries provided access to knowledge and understanding. &quot;We go on about how important literacy is, and the government goes on about it, and then what do we do, we propose to close down half the libraries.&quot; And he added: &quot;For me the library service is as important as the health service, as we are talking about the health of peoples&#39; minds. If it is a question of choices, then if you ask me if I would choose Trident or libraries, I would choose libraries.&quot;</p><p>Morpurgo accepted libraries were a drain on the public purse, but stressed: &quot;We cannot have a country that pretends to be cultured, but which then takes away all the tools to aid that. People need to stand up and be counted.&quot;<br /><br />Responding to Vaizey&#39;s non-appearance, library campaigner Desmond Clarke said: &quot;Both Steve and Michael Morpurgo were very insightful and put across the message that the proposed cuts are disproportionate, will deliver few savings but have a dramatic impact on small town and rural communities. The DCMS seems to be sitting on its hands while councils wield the axe. Did not Eric Pickles stress the councils should first tackle their overheads before considering closing a single library? There is a leadership void and the public need to seize the initiative.&quot;<br /><br />In opposition Vaizey led the calls for an inquiry into the proprosed closure of some Wirral libraries, at one point tabling an Early Day Motion in parliament condemning the cuts. He described the proposals as &quot;cost-driven vandalism&quot;. Responding to the proposed cuts to library services outlined since the Government&#39;s Comprehensive Spending Review last year, Vaziey told library campaigners that the statutory requirement to provide a &quot;comprehensive and efficient&quot; library service did not preclude library closures.</p><p>Ross said &quot;in the absence of leadership from government by 24th January 2011 we will establish a public inquiry&quot;. He added: &quot;The Ministers at DCMS have so far avoided their responsibility as custodians of a service that is a foundation of British knowledge, lifelong learning and culture. They have closed their eyes to local council&#39;s wielding axes over libraries all over the country and to the economic, social and cultural impact of disproportionate cuts while covering their ears to the cries of people saying simply - stop and think. If the Prime Minister cannot see that reflection is essential and offer leadership the public must act to ensure that the public library service receives a fair trial&quot;.</p><p>On Vaizey, Ross responded: &quot;I am sorry the Minister was unavailable today. I am sure campaigners representative&#39;s from all over the country will make themselves available to meet him if he is prepared to act, listen and intervene to bring us back from the brink of cultural catastrophe.&quot; </p>