Trade backs call for library inquiry

<p>With widespread protests up and down the country over the scale of threatened library closures, campaigners in Somerset are calling for a national public inquiry into the service&mdash;and receiving support from the trade. </p><p>Individual library campaign groups, including those in Gloucestershire, Lewisham and Dorset, are considering legal measures to oppose cuts in their areas, with the option to call for intervention from the Secretary of State&mdash;who has a duty to superintend the service under the 1964 Public Libraries Act&mdash;if proposed closures are confirmed. </p><p>Tim Godfray, chief executive of the Booksellers Association, said the association was pleased that campaigners across many parts of the country were &quot;fighting vigorously&quot; to keep their libraries. &quot;Referring local decisions for closure to the Secretary of State for investigation, and urging Ed Vaizey to carry out a national inquiry, seem like very sensible strategies,&quot; he added. </p><p>Annie Mauger, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Library &amp; Information Professionals, also welcomed the call for a national inquiry. &quot;This proves how much people deeply care about their local library services,&quot; she said. &quot;We believe that public libraries have a great future and contribute a huge amount to society through supporting children, families, learning and reading. An inquiry will generate greater publicity about the plight of our library services and the disproportionate cuts many face. We hope that government takes the public outcry seriously.&quot;</p><p>However, Richard Mollet, chief executive of The Publishers Association, stopped short of supporting the call for an inquiry.&nbsp; &quot;It would certainly be useful if there were to be a debate on the future of libraries in the House of Commons, so that MPs &ndash; especially those from areas where local authorities are threatening large scale closures &ndash; can raise concerns with relevant ministers, and the policy on libraries could be carefully discussed,&quot; he said. </p><p>In Somerset the council is proposing to withdraw funding from 20 of its 34 libraries, and local campaigners are calling for a national focus on the issue as well as individual local initiatives. &quot;The suggestion for a national public library service inquiry is an invitation for central government to offer leadership and an innovative social response,&quot; said Somerset campaign spokesperson Steve Ross. &quot;The fear is we are on a short-term dash towards cultural oblivion that will place a straitjacket on innovation and lifelong learning in many communities, at a time when the country needs to prepare to face up to the bigger challenges the world faces towards 2050.&quot;<br /><br />Campaigner Desmond Clarke said there was a feeling that government needed to intervene in the absence of leadership elsewhere and urged people to get involved in the national inquiry campaign. &quot;What&#39;s happening around the country [in terms of campaigning] is absolutely incredible. This is the people rising,&quot; he said.<br /><br />The Somerset campaigners are approaching Prime Minister David Cameron and deputy Nick Clegg with a call for an inquiry this week. But Ross added if the government didn&#39;t respond promptly, they were prepared to set up a public inquiry themselves. &quot;I am a lawyer. We know the format an inquiry takes. We will appoint an independent chair and put a call out across society asking for people to come forward,&quot; he said. <br /><br />According to website <a href="http://www.publiclibrariesnews.blogspot.com" title="publiclibrariesnews.blogspot.com">publiclibrariesnews.blogspot.com</a>, up to 400 libraries are threatened with closure, with around half of councils still to announce their plans.<br /><br />Many campaigners are planning &quot;read-ins&quot; at threatened branches on 5th February </p>