Author and library campaigner Alan Gibbons has issued an open letter to culture minister Ed Vaizey, renewing his call for the politician to engage in a full public debate on the future of the public library service as the “situation is critical”.
Gibbons first issued a challenge to Vaizey earlier this year, with the government minister telling the Guardian via email that he would “happily debate Alan”.
But after negotiating with Vaizey’s staff over the form the debate will take Gibbons has now written another letter to Vaizey.
“I think I was clear that this would be a ‘head-to-head’ public debate in front of as large an audience as possible and at an accessible time,” said Gibbons. “Sadly, in discussions with your staff, options such as a panel on a weekday morning have been offered which do not offer the possibility of rigorous scrutiny of your record as minister in front of a substantial audience of those interested.”
He added: “The situation is critical. I think it is time to end the prevarication and debate these issues urgently. I would renew my call for a public debate at a time when an audience from all over the country could attend in numbers to put their questions to you.”
In his letter Gibbons says that he believes “that the public library service itself is in increasing danger”, quoting a figure of 286 libraries in England shutting in the past four years, and 300 now run by volunteers.
“A brief review of recent library news suggests that we are heading towards a situation in which many towns and cities could end up with one council-run library surrounded by volunteer community libraries of variable success and quality,” said Gibbons.
“This does not, in my opinion, add up to a comprehensive and efficient service.”
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