Government says library service 'not in crisis'

Government says library service 'not in crisis'

The Government's official response to the Culture, Media and Sport's Select Committee report into library closures has concluded: "This is not a service in crisis".

In the official Department for Culture, Media and Sport response, issued at the end of last week, the Government emphasised that it was a matter for local authorities to provide "comprehensive and efficient" library services as laid out in the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act, but points out that the Act "does not seek to be overly prescriptive".

It added: "The closure of one or even a number of library branches does not necessarily signify a breach of the 1964 Act", and said that while the Secretary of State had the power to intervene in local decisions, it could only be done for serious reasons based on the facts in a case.

The response admitted: "Professionally qualified librarians are key to the public library service", but added: "Volunteers have always been involved in libraries, and where locally appropriate, community-managed or community-supported libraries can present a creative way to manage resources in appropriate individual cases. They are a way of growing the library service, not replacing it."

It also claimed that the DCMS would produce a report into the state of the library service at the end of 2013 rather the end of 2014 as previously said, and would produce a report annually thereafter.

The original report, issued after many delays in June last year, was met with a mixed response from library campaigners. The report accused many library authorities of not being aware of their statutory duties, and called for all to "work harder" to prove the service was still valued.

Phil Bradley, president of the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals, criticised the DCMS's response on his blog: "It is, to say the least, a rather conflicted and confusing document, but not one that will put a spring in the step of anyone who cares about the future of our library services.

"I would have liked to have seen far more discussion on the importance of professional staff in the DCMS response; a library service cannot be properly provided to a community without qualified and experienced staff working at all levels, and without a librarian, you cannot have a library, 'community' or otherwise. 

"I was also disappointed that there seemed to be no willingness or indeed ability to define exactly what a comprehensive and efficient service actually means. There was also no desire to bring in any form of national assessment framework. Without those things being put into place communities are still going to face a postcode lottery, services will continue to be cut in wholly disproportionate ways and professional staff will continue to lose their jobs."