Library subsidy cuts could threaten public access

<p>Librarians are warning that government proposals to slash the Public Library Subsidy (PLS) scheme could damage the public&rsquo;s access to information about government activities.</p><p>The scheme currently offers a 50% discount to all public libraries on print copies of official materials. A total of &pound;547,000 in subsidy was given out in 2008/09. However, an Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) consultation is currently underway on plans to axe the scheme for materials which are also available online for free. </p><p>Publications from the Office of National Statistics, Command Papers, Hansard records for the House of Commons and House of Lords, Select Committee reports and bills would all be affected by the change. OPSI is also proposing to cut the subsidy from Ordnance Survey maps on the grounds that they are only of &ldquo;recreational&rdquo; use.</p><p>Andrew Coburn, acquiring manager for Essex libraries, speaking in a personal capacity, said: &ldquo;For a lot of authorities, the only way they can afford the materials is by taking advantage of the subsidy.</p><p>&ldquo;They [OPSI] keep referring to online access, but that is not always appropriate for someone who <br />only uses a mobile library but may want to take out a government report, or someone who uses a &shy;static library but can&rsquo;t afford to print out lengthy papers.&rdquo; </p><p>A second librarian, who preferred to remain anonymous, said: &ldquo;If you are looking at how a particular piece of legislation develops&mdash;starting with the green paper, then the white paper, the draft bill, bill, passage through parliament, then the Act&mdash;it is easier to use print.&rdquo; He rejected the definition of OS maps as &ldquo;recreational&rdquo;, saying they had a wide variety of uses including school projects and planning applications.</p><p>Donna Ravenhill, of specialist library supplier Dandy Booksellers, said she had only heard negative responses to the proposals from her 200-plus customers. &ldquo;OPSI has spent a fortune on their electronic offering and now they are trying to save money,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;If this consultation goes through it will be the end of official publication collections within public libraries.&rdquo;</p><p>The consultation ends on 8th January 2010. A spokesperson for The National Archives, within which OPSI operates, said no decision would be made will be made until that time. </p><p>&quot;The volume of government information available online has steadily increased and this trend is set to continue reflecting the demand for online access,&quot; the spokesperson added. &quot;The PLS is part of a wider Public Access Scheme and following a consultation in 2004, funding was reallocated from PLS to invest in publishing legislation online via the OPSI website for free. </p><p>&quot;The funding for the PLS and the investment in the OPSI website have remained constant for three years at just over &pound;1m per annum. The consultation is not a cost-cutting exercise.&quot;<br />&nbsp;</p>