The Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals (CILIP) has written an open letter condemning Ed Vaizey's use of "flawed" figures for closures and new openings of public libraries in the House of Commons.
Vaizey used figures based on desk research carried out by an official at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to respond to a question by Clive Betts MP in the House of Commons on 23rd February about the number of public libraries that have closed and opened since May 2010, and the number which were run by professionally-qualified staff and are now run by volunteers.
Ed Vaizey is quoted in Hansard responding to the question: “Based on desk research undertaken by the department, we estimate that from January 2010 to January 2016 approximately 110 static public libraries in England closed and at least 77 new public libraries have opened, including relocations to new buildings.”
However, figures from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) indicate that there were 3,043 libraries in England in 2009-10 and 2,865 in 2014-15, a net reduction of 178. This compares to a net reduction of 33 claimed by Ed Vaizey. CIPFA carry out an annual survey of local authorities in Great Britain asking questions about the number of library service points, opening hours, staffing, expenditure and usage.
In the open letter to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport John Whittindgale, CILIP chief executive Nick Poole says: “We note that these figures appear to have been obtained from an informal and cursory internal search and not from the more accurate and comprehensive statistics published by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA). While well-documented improvements to the CIPFA library statistics could be made, they are the most robust and universal dataset published on public libraries in England.”
Poole added: “In quoting these misleading figures, the minister risks a partial and partisan presentation of the circumstances of public libraries. We note that these figures have also been quoted in a House of Commons Library Briefing Paper and we are in contact with them to request the correction of several inaccuracies. Given the obligation on ministers to provide ‘truthful and accurate’ responses to parliamentary questions, we are extremely concerned that Mr Vaizey appears to have chosen to use such unsatisfactory evidence in order to present a particular view on the realities of the challenge currently facing public library services across the UK.
“In a complex environment in which all parties need to be able to work together to secure the interests of the library-using public, it is clearly not satisfactory to base government policy on ‘informal desk research’ undertaken by a DCMS official, nor to cite these misleading figures when responding to your colleagues in the House.”
CILIP’s My Library By Right campaign has sought to hold the government to account for its legal obligations including overseeing and improving public libraries in England under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.
The DCMS has been contacted for a comment in response.