Hertfordshire School Library Service has become the latest service to face closure, sparking fears of a wider threat to SLS provision nationwide.
The unit is among the largest School Library Services in the country, and supports some 150 schools in Hertfordshire, including nearly half its primary schools and one-third of its secondary schools. It could close on 31st March 2012, with the decision by the Hertfordshire Local and Libraries Cabinet Panel likely to be rubber-stamped by the council on 19th December. A petition has been started on the Herts Council website to try to reverse the decision.
A spokesman for Herts Council said that the closure was due to financial reasons, stating that the service had been operating at a loss of £40,000 for the current financial year.
A statement from the Council said: “The Library Service offers expert advice and support to schools on a traded basis, and it is expected to cover its costs. In recent years, fewer and fewer schools have been buying into the service. This means that, despite restructuring in 2010, the service is running at a deficit, and is no longer viable.”
But the petition argued: “We think it is too important and too valuable to close, and we are concerned about the lack of notice and consultation on this decision. We ask councillors not to ratify it in December, but to please take time to explore alternative funding sources.”
Annie Mauger, CILIP chief executive, said CILIP was “shocked and saddened” by the news, which meant “vital support for literacy and learning will be lost”. She warned that the move could prompt simliar action from other councils. “Hertfordshire County Council may feel that they have no choices as this is a traded service, but my concern is that this will create a domino effect across the country.”
Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, added: “Hertfordshire’s School Library Service has an iconic status as a centre of excellence in this field. If a service that is one of the biggest and best in the country is set to close, this threatens every School Library Service in the country.”
No replacement service is being offered to schools by the county’s library service. Chris Hayward, cabinet member for libraries, said in the statement: “If a decision is made by Cabinet to close the service, schools will still be able to purchase library materials directly from library suppliers and publishers, as well as obtain professional support and advice from organisations such as the School Library Association (SLA).”
Tricia Adams, director of the SLA, said: “The SLA is a national membership-based charity, which is very different from a local organization with local knowledge and local resources. Hertfordshire was a leading, innovative SLS, and it would be a great shame to lose it.”