The government "cannot rely on community-minded individuals" to bridge the gaps by acting as volunteers to run libraries, the chair of the National Federation of Women's Institutes has said.
Speaking as the WI began its latest library action, asking each of its members to borrow a book from their library today (16th September), chair Ruth Bond said it was "simply not good enough" to assume that volunteers will step in to continue providing services previously supplied by professionals.
"Whilst volunteers have an important role to play, they should not be a replacement for a trained, professional library service, and local communities have real concerns about their assumed ability to take on the running of local libraries, particularly around their ability to raise sufficient funds to keep library premises running and replenish book stocks," she said.
Bond also said that library closures would particularly affect women, who bear the brunt of the cuts, not only as public sector workers but also as library users.
Thirty thousand campaign postcards have been distributed as part of the WI campaign, giving members and supporters an opportunity to write to culture minister Ed Vaizey calling on him to "honour his commitment to act as a champion" of the service. The WI has also launched an e-petition in support of public libraries in August, which has attracted over 9,000 signatures thus far.
Today marks the 96th anniversary of the WI's first meeting; the organisation was also active in campaigning for public libraries in the 1920s and 30s, when local authorities refused to form lending libraries in rural villages. In 1919, WI member Mary Close wrote: "The first and greatest dfficulty in running a successful library is to get the right person as librarian. Too often, alas, one has to put up with someone whose only qualification is that they have the time to give to the work."
Earlier this week the Arts Council released its first strategy document on libraries, Culture, Knowledge and Understanding: Great Museums and Libraries for Everyone, in which it said it was "keen to see museums and libraries continuing to innovate in their approaches to engaging with communities and making more effective use of volunteers".