Library campaigners have reacted angrily to new government guidance which offers advice for members of the public looking to take over public libraries. Campaigning groups have called the information "actively hostile" to public libraries.
The new section on the "Get Involved" section of www.gov.uk is called "Create a community library" and lists "how you can help support local libraries, including taking on ownership and management".
The site says: "Public library services are highly valued by the communities they serve. However, alongside other public sector services, they are facing enormous financial challenges", and describes how: "A growing number of library authorities now work with communities to build sustainable library services, with local people supporting public libraries, managing them, in some places, [and[ taking on ownership and management of library buildings."
The site then links through to an Arts Council England (ACE) report on community libraries, and Locality's site which provides further information on community rights.
Laura Swaffield, chair of the Library Campaign, said: "I really had thought the government couldn't sink any lower on libraries. But now it's moved from lazily passive to actively hostile. People don't want to run libraries. Even those who end up doing it. They want a proper service run by professionals. That's what you need in the information age." She added: "What next? Create your own hospital?"
A recent report from the Library Campaign given to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Libraries outlined several issues with volunteer libraries. The report said: "Volunteer-run libraries may work, after a fashion, in well-heeled areas, but are less likely to do so less prosperous parts of the country. Significantly, some councils - such as Bolton - have already concluded that volunteer libraries are not the solution to the problems facing the library service,"
Campaigner Desmond Clarke said the government's webpage showed that: "The Government is actively promoting a policy of volunteer run libraries even though it, and ACE, have still not developed models to ensure that such libraries are sustainable… The public library service is being destroyed by Government and Arts Council England and replaced by a few 'super' libraries in major cities and hundreds of book exchanges run by volunteers."
This week, author Neil Gaiman spoke out in defence of libraries at the annual Reading Agency lecture, likening closing libraries to "stopping vaccinations".
In Scotland, culture secretary Fiona Hyslop has urged Moray Council to reconsider the closure of seven of its 15 libraries. Swaffield said the case was a "contrast" to how similar cases have been handled in England.