We all love libraries. That is an undeniable fact. They add to the value of our communities by allowing people access to information, books and community support. We like living in communities that value information and knowledge, it makes for a happier and safer society. As writers we love libraries because they make readers, and we need lots of those! Children and young people who enter a library are far more likely to accidentally find our books, give them a chance, and then buy our books in the future.
All in all our country and our communities are better for having free access to information and higher knowledge – that really is a no-brainer. We need libraries, and we need skilled and professional librarians.
That said, the situation has never been more difficult for libraries and today (Election Day) it is worth taking a look at what the main political parties have said about libraries. Their manifestos say very little and this is often just a word or a couple of vague lines about “supporting” but with no figures and the over-hanging threat of devaluing the service and the people who deliver it. It is worth mentioning that none of the political parties has either said anything or promised any commitment towards school libraries.
It is important today to take a look at what the main political parties are saying about libraries. The following is re-blogged (with permission) from the very useful and informative www.publiclibrariesnews.com and with source permission from the Retired Member’s Guild of CILIP (more details below)
These responses are posted in alphabetical order.
The Conservative Party – Ed Vaizey MP
Conservatives are clear that libraries provide a vital service to people of all ages, giving them the opportunity to gain knowledge and new skills and opening up new possibilities in work, education and culture. We have a very strong library service, with over 3,100 public libraries across England. In 2013/14 alone councils invested £757 million in their library services and according to the most recently published information there were 234 million library visits in 2013/14, showing that this service remains very popular amongst the public.
Since 2011 the Arts Council has been responsible for working with libraries to develop the services they provide. Supported by government funding, the Council has allocated £6 million to help libraries innovate and increase the range of services and activities they offer to visitors. For example, some libraries have chosen to stage exhibitions of painting by local artists, helping to increase the number of visitors and provide fantastic publicity for the artists involved.
“Many libraries have also been able to attract large numbers of volunteers who are helping to run and provide services to users. It is precisely this sort of collaboration and innovation that libraries need to be considering as they look to attract more visitors and remain relevant”
Libraries have also been expanding their e-lending services which are becoming increasingly popular, with a 125 per cent increase in e-lending in 2014 alone. Many libraries have also been able to attract large numbers of volunteers who are helping to run and provide services to users. It is precisely this sort of collaboration and innovation that libraries need to be considering as they look to attract more visitors and remain relevant. That is why we are working to take forward the recommendations made by William Sieghart in his new Independent Library Report which sets out a road map for helping libraries to adapt to the changing needs and demands of their users.
Of course libraries have faced challenging times in recent years. We have had to take some difficult decisions when it comes to public spending but we have continued to be fair to councils, ensuring that those areas with the greatest call on their services continue to receive the highest levels of funding. In addition, we have published new guidance and advice to help councils make sensible savings whilst protecting frontline services. There are many councils who have risen to the challenge and have merged their back office, cut out fraud and waste and reduced red tape which has meant that they have reduced costs and protected and even improved the quality of the services they deliver, including libraries.
The scale of library closures has been widely exaggerated. In 2014 only two static libraries closed whilst since 2010 we estimate the total number of static library closures to be just 93. Conservatives believe that if libraries embrace new technology, work to increase the number of activities and facilities they offer and genuinely make themselves open and welcoming to the whole community then they have a bright future ahead of them.
Ed Vaizey is Minister of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, with responsibility for digital industries.
The Green Party - Cllr. Geoffrey Bowden
Greens in Brighton & Hove see libraries as supporting some of the city’s key priority objectives, such as fostering health and well-being; encouraging reading and literacy; supporting children and adult learning; supporting elderly and vulnerable people; and providing important, safe and trusted community spaces in local neighbourhoods.
“there is a direct correlation between diminishing footfall and restrictions to opening hours – another oft used cost cutting measure. It is a self-fulfilling negative downward spiral”
However, a casual scan of the Internet will reveal that, although a statutory service, libraries up and down the country are falling victim to the coalition’s austerity measures. Local authorities of all political hues have been closing them at an alarming rate. So often the justification given is that the number using them has fallen to such a degree that they are no longer economically viable. However, what is often left unsaid is that there is a direct correlation between diminishing footfall and restrictions to opening hours – another oft used cost cutting measure. It is a self-fulfilling negative downward spiral, whose end game is inevitable and will be used by the bean counters to justify closures.
Other authorities have travelled down different paths – all designed to get libraries off the public sector balance sheets. Mutuals, Community Interest Companies (CIC), even handing over the whole shooting match to volunteers are options that have been tried. None are perfect and inevitably still require some form of support from the public purse. While it would be foolish not to consider the options, these are not the models chosen by the country’s only Green led administration in Brighton & Hove. Against a backdrop of deep government cuts, the temptation to axe libraries can appear to be tempting low hanging fruit when it comes to balancing the books (if you pardon the pun!).
However, when applying a social value measure to libraries, their contribution to local communities is overwhelming and powerfully makes the argument for keeping them open, which is exactly what we’ve done in Brighton & Hove. Our main library, The Jubilee, is the top-performing library in the region and the second most popular library in the country, with one million visits each year.
Our approach has been to make libraries central community focal points and, wherever possible, to co-locate services in them. One of the two new libraries we have opened during our administration has a medical centre as part of the complex, while the other doubles up as a local secondary school’s library. We also encourage libraries to be used as the settings for performance and other arts activities, engaging users and encouraging people through the doors.
The austerity did force the Greens to take a long hard look at the city’s remaining mobile library. It had reached the end of its economic life. Not without some protest, we replaced it with a more targeted and growingly popular home delivery service. Librarians, equipped with tablets, bought with the proceeds from the sale of the old vehicle, now make home visits to the housebound and, instead of a limited choice of 2,000 titles, users now have a choice of more than half a million.
“Greens are now looking at extending opening hours using technology, where a library card will provide library users access when librarians are not physically present.”
Greens are now looking at extending opening hours using technology, where a library card will provide library users access when librarians are not physically present. Support is to be offered via video link to our main library. Green policy is to position libraries as vital community hubs and keep them open.
Geoffrey Bowden is chair of the Economic Development & Culture Committee Brighton & Hove City Council.
The Labour Party – Chris Bryant MP
Libraries are a vital part of the life of our country. They are places children can learn to read, and start to explore the vast depths of human knowledge and imagination. They are places older people can start to get online and access the internet. They are places people go to find jobs, to access government services, to hang out after school, to attend community groups, or just to spend time with a good book. They’re often at the very heart of their communities.
Public libraries are primarily managed by local councils, but the Secretary of State has a statutory duty under the 1964 Public Libraries Act to “superintend and promote the improvement of the public library service”. This places a duty – in law – to provide national leadership to the library service. This Government has failed to fulfil that duty. Under David Cameron, we have had a succession of Secretaries of State – Jeremy Hunt, Maria Miller and Sajid Javid – who were uninterested in libraries and saw the job as a stepping stone. They left the work to the junior minister Ed Vaizey. He has been in his job for five years – what has happened to libraries under his watch?
“House of Commons research that we released on National Libraries Day – formerly Save Our Libraries Day – paints a stark picture of the scale of the Government’s failure. There are now at least 330 fewer libraries open for 10 hours or more a week – an 8 per cent drop.”
House of Commons research that we released on National Libraries Day – formerly Save Our Libraries Day – paints a stark picture of the scale of the Government’s failure. There are now at least 330 fewer libraries open for 10 hours or more a week – an 8 per cent drop. There are now 40 million fewer visits to libraries – a 12 per cent drop from 322 million visits in 2009/10 to 282 million in 2013/14. That’s the Tory legacy: boarded-up libraries and fewer people opening the front door, let alone opening books.
A Labour Government will provide national leadership where this Government has failed. The Sieghart Independent Library Report gives us the opportunity to chart a long-term path for our libraries. Tory Culture ministers have failed to give leadership. A Labour Culture Minister will chair the “task and finish group” that Sieghart recommends.
Local councils have had a tough time under this Government. They have had to take difficult decisions on funding, including on libraries, with almost no central help or advice. Shamefully, deprived communities have been hit the hardest. These communities rely on public libraries the most, as they may not have books or computers at home. However the percentage of people visiting in these areas has fallen since 2010 from 46.2 per cent of people to 36.8 per cent. That is a 21 per cent drop.
“Libraries are vitally important institutions. They have suffered under this Government from a lack of national leadership. Labour will work across Government and with local councils and libraries to provide that leadership.”
People who work in the library service know that Tory Culture ministers barely talk to the Department for Local Government (DCLG), let alone local councils. Under a Labour Government, a Labour Culture Minister will work with DCLG to encourage greater collaboration and cooperation between the 151 library authorities in England, and give councils longer term funding settlements so that councils can better plan ahead, deliver savings and meet local needs.
Libraries are vitally important institutions. They have suffered under this Government from a lack of national leadership. Labour will work across Government and with local councils and libraries to provide that leadership.
Chris Bryant is Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport.
The Liberal Democrats – John Leech MP
One of the first campaigns I was involved with during the early 1990’s, before I was elected as a local a Councillor in Manchester was to try to stop the Labour Council from cutting the opening hours of our local library. I and the Liberal Democrats recognise that public libraries are important to local communities. That is why, in the face of a tough economic climate for local Councils, we have fought for the past 5 years to keep them open.
The old fashioned library is a thing of the past. The Liberal Democrats understand that the best libraries have evolved into a community hub and have reinvented themselves over the years. If you walk into your local library you should find a microcosm of the local community, with services for all ages and cultures, from infant reading group to adult learning centre, job search to history club, from working with local schools to hosting public meetings.
“I and the Liberal Democrats recognise that public libraries are important to local communities. That is why, in the face of a tough economic climate for local Councils, we have fought for the past 5 years to keep them open.”
In government, we commissioned William Seighart to investigate what should be the core principles of a public library into the future and whether the current model of delivery is the most comprehensive and efficient. Stakeholders were invited to submit their views to the review which reported to the government at the end of last year.
This Government has had to make tough decision to balance the books, and local government has had to take its share of budget cuts. Liberal Democrats believe that decisions on keeping local libraries open quite rightly lie at a local level. Where the Liberal Democrats run local councils we have protected libraries. From 2011-13 no council we controlled closed a single public library, whilst dozens were closed by Labour and Conservative councils. And even in other parties’ councils we fight to keep libraries open. Liberal Democrats in government have created the Community Right to Bid, which gives local groups first refusal if a community asset is put up for sale or plans made to close it.
“Liberal Democrats believe that decisions on keeping local libraries open quite rightly lie at a local level. Where the Liberal Democrats run local councils we have protected libraries.”
We have organised campaigns to save local libraries from Southport to Haringey, Merton to Brent. Indeed, our Parliamentary candidate in Brent has even promised to donate half his salary to open community libraries if he wins in May. This is in stark contrast to Brent Council who spent £250,000 in a single year keeping the libraries closed! In Coalition we have fought to keep the cuts fair, whilst doing what is needed to strengthen the economy. We have handed over power to community groups to take control of their libraries, and run them for and by the local people.
We intend to do the same after the next election, tempering the other parties in national and local government and helping public groups protect the things which are important to them – instead of telling them what matters from the top down.
John Leech MP is the Lib Dem Spokesperson for Culture, Media and Sport.
was contacted in the same way as other contributing Parties. At the third attempt we received the following email.
On 19/01/2015 14:45, Mail wrote: Your message: To: Mail
Subject: Fwd: UKIP Policy on Public Libraries
Sent: 18 January 2015 18:19:57
(UTC) Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon,
London was read on 19 January 2015 14:45:19 (UTC) Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, London. Final-recipient: RFC822; mail@ukip. org
we contacted them again but received no further response.....
My thanks to Bob Usherwood (Editor of Post-Lib and Emeritus Professor - University of Sheffield) for permission to use the above article. It appeared in the April 2015 edition of the magazine, which is the publication of the Retired Members Guild of CILIP. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
Please follow @publiclibnews, @speakup4libs @librarycampaign @vftl_uk to stay up to date with library campaigns.
Article prepared by Dawn Finch (@dawnafinch)
Vice President CILIP
School Library and Literacy Consultant